How Many Bad Drivers Are There in New York State? DMV Doesn’t Know — And Doesn’t Seem to Care!

Reckless drivers kill and kill and kill again. Does the state DMV care?
Reckless drivers kill and kill and kill again. Does the state DMV care?

The state Department of Motor Vehicles either doesn’t know — or doesn’t care to know — how many reckless drivers are on the road.

That’s the shocking conclusion from the agency’s denial of a request for that basic information from Streetsblog, which asked in May, “How many New York State-licensed drivers have three or more moving violations in any 12-month period?”

The answer? DMV “does not have a way to know which records in our possession might answer the questions you have asked,” the agency’s Freedom of Information Law and Subpoena Unit responded on July 29. “Nor does the DMV maintain the records requested in a manner that permits practical retrieval.”

The agency also denied the request on the grounds that “asking a question, or requesting information, is not a request for records as envisioned by the Freedom of Information Law.”

Perhaps, but back in May, Tim O’Brien of the DMV communications office, told Streetsblog that to obtain the information,  we would “have to submit a FOIL request” (see his specific instructions below).

obrien email

On Monday, O’Brien told Streetsblog, “The communications office does not have the data you are seeking. The FOIL office is a separate office within DMV. If you believe you have been denied access to records, the letter you received should have spelled out the appeals process.” (Editor’s note: There will be an appeal.)

It’s no minor issue that the state agency in charge of licensing drivers can’t easily put its hands on driving records. A pending bill by State Senator Andrew Gounardes would suspend the licenses of any driver with three or more moving violations in any rolling 12-month period, so it is crucial that policymakers know how many drivers would be affected.

“You’ve got to be kidding me — the DMV either can’t track or won’t report information on the most dangerous drivers on the road?” Gounardes said when Streetsblog informed of the DMV non-response to our request for information. “My ‘three strikes and you’re out’ bill relies on agencies having the ability to protect the public by suspending licenses of the worst traffic offenders. I will be looking into legislative solutions to ensure that the information is gathered, maintained and made available to the public.”

It can’t be that difficult to determine how many drivers — or vehicles — have been slapped with multiple moving violations. After all, cars that have been nabbed by a red light or speed camera in New York City end up in the city’s “Parking and Camera Violations” database.

There are roughly 40 million parking and moving violations in the database, making it difficult to spot patterns with the naked eye, but fortunately, cyclist (and Streetsblog Advocate of the Year 2018) Brian Howald created “How’s My Driving NY,” a website that combs the database and spits out reports on individual license plates in a split second. Streetsblog asked Howald to sort the database for all vehicles that have received three or more moving violations in any 12-month period.

The result: 614,498 vehicles.

And that’s just in New York City — and just the vehicles with three or moving violations caught on the city’s sparse 140 or so school zone camera systems in any 12-month period (plenty more drivers have more than three red light or speed camera violations, but they are spread out across a wider time frame).

It doesn’t take much imagination to see that Gounardes’s bill could remove hundreds of thousands of reckless drivers — if the state DMV decides to take its oversight role seriously.

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