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WTF? Mayor Says ‘Reckless Driver’ Bill Is Not ‘Most Urgent’

10:06 PM EDT on September 23, 2019

Mayor de Blasio shows off the Green Wave. File photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Getting reckless drivers off the road isn’t an urgent priority for the de Blasio administration — despite the rash in pedestrian and cyclist deaths on city streets this year, and particularly this past weekend when three people, including a teen, were reported killed.

Brooklyn Council Member Brad Lander proposed the so-called Reckless Driver Accountability Act in June, 2018, but on Monday, the mayor suggested he is slow-walking the bill, which would allow authorities to impound any car that is caught on camera speeding or running red lights more than four times in any 12-month period.

The mayor first said he was unfamiliar with the 15-month-old bill, even though he has been asked about it many times and his own Law, Transportation and Police departments have negotiated with the Council. Then he said he will devote his attention — and limited tenure as mayor — to other bills that are “pending most urgently.”

“I haven't seen Councilman Lander’s bill, but I believe some of what he had to talk about in those (sic) bill — that bill is things I do agree with, it’s just about the specific wording,” de Blasio said, just hours after a bloody weekend in Queens that consisted of a teen cyclist and a senior citizen killed by drivers. “We have a legislative process around here and it's sequenced according to which bills are moving when — there’s a lot of legislation moving in the Council. And so, I work with my team on the legislation that's pending most urgently and we decide how we're going to handle each one and we do it in sequence. So, when the time comes, we will address that one.”

It’s certainly not the first time the mayor has been asked about Lander’s bill, which the Park Slope councilman introduced a few months after a motorist with repeated camera violations killed two kids on Ninth Street in his neighborhood. WNYC’s Brian Lehrer most recently questioned Hizzoner about it two weeks ago. The mayor, then still a presidential candidate, gave the same spiel.

“I haven't seen his bill,” he said on Sept. 13, three days after an out-of-control driver mounted the sidewalk and killed 10-year-old Enzo Farachio as he was waiting for the bus. “In terms of the items in Brad Lander’s bill, they sound directionally correct. Again, we need to see the exact language, but they certainly sound directionally correct. We need to have more accountability.”

Advocates, who declared months ago that Vision Zero was in a "State of Emergency," say the mayor has no excuse at this point to play dumb about a proposal to get dangerous drivers off the road. As of Monday, 22 cyclists have died on the streets of New York City — more than double the 10 cyclists killed in all of 2018. All told, reckless drivers have killed 159 people, including 81 pedestrians, so far this year — a 14-percent increase over the same period last year, according to the Department of Transportation.

"This is a no-brainer. These are repeat offenders, near schools often. It is deeply disturbing that he has not made this a priority," said Marco Conner, deputy director for Transportation Alternatives. "It really underscores what so many are saying that he's not taking his own Vision Zero program appropriately, applying it with piecemeal efforts. He simply isn't seeing the urgency of the situation."

Even the often car-centric New York Times listed street safety as one of the mayor’s priorities now that he’s back in New York City for the foreseeable future since ending his bid for the White House, so it’s unclear why he appears to be slow-walking this crucial piece of legislation.

“It doesn't make any sense for a Vision Zero mayor,” said Bike New York's Jon Orcutt, himself a former DOT official. “His excuse for not getting horrible recidivist drivers off our streets is that he hasn't read the bill. That's like saying, ‘I’m still in Iowa.'”

Lander also questioned how the mayor could possibly say that the unfortunately slow-moving bill is not at the top of de Blasio's agenda given the surge in tragic and preventable fatalities. Lander said he's already met with the relevant agencies, and is now just waiting on Hizzoner.

“Everyone knows that reining in reckless driving in NYC is an urgent priority," said Lander. "I appreciated the participation of DOT, the Law Department, and the Sheriff in conversations about this legislation earlier this year. I would welcome the mayor’s urgent involvement in the process, in order to pass the legislation as soon as possible.”

There are some both practical and legal details of the legislation that still need to be worked out, like where the 20,000-plus cars would be taken once impounded, how the new program would actually be implemented, if booting cars would be a better option instead of impounding them, and finding the appropriate threshold for defining recklessness (initially, Lander wanted a five-tickets-and-you're-out plan because that would capture the worst 1 percent of drivers — but with speed and red light cameras expanding, there will be more tickets, meaning the worst drivers may need more tickets to qualify as the worst 1 percent).

But if the mayor deemed the legislation enough of a priority, he would be actively helping to get those issues worked out, instead of claiming he hasn't even read the bill yet, said Conner.

"Those are legitimate issues that need to be addressed, but they are not unsolvable — certainly in the face of what this legislation seeks to do, get dangerous driving offenders off the road temporarily or change their behavior," he said. 

Lander wrote in Streetsblog in July that he's aiming to pass the bill — which already has the support of 31 of the 51 council members, ensuring it would move on to the mayor's desk for signature — this fall, and his office says that is still true.

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