EXCLUSIVE: Mayor Will Fund Lander’s ‘Reckless Driver’ Bill

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Reckless drivers, your days are once again numbered.

The de Blasio administration will fund a program — created last year, but left out of the budget when COVID hit — that would require the city’s worst repeat reckless drivers to complete a safety course or have their cars impounded by the sheriff.

The Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program, pushed by Council Member Brad Lander and signed by Mayor de Blasio last February, required drivers with 15 or more camera-issued speeding tickets or five red light tickets in any 12-month period to take an in-person course similar to the Driver Accountability Program run by the Red Hook Community Justice Center. Those courses will begin in the fall and are expected to ramp up quickly to all five boroughs.

“Safety starts with accountability,” new DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman said in a statement to Streetsblog. “We’re proud to stand with the Speaker and Council Member Lander and begin the law’s required classes this fall. These classes will … send a message to every vehicle operator that there are serious consequences for putting your fellow New Yorkers at risk.”

Lander, whose engine was quite overheated when the $1.6 million in funding was pulled at the last minute, said bygones are bygones.

“It’s just great to get this program going,” he told Streetsblog, crediting the work of members of Families for Safe Streets, who lobbied so effectively for the program. “We also saw during the pandemic how badly needed this program is, what with all the increased reckless driving. But this program says you can’t use your car as a weapon — and if you do, you are going to have to change your behavior.”

It is unclear how many people received 15 speeding or five red light camera tickets in the year since the program was signed into law. But one provision of the law — when the city started counting the tickets against a driver’s record — did go into effect as scheduled: On Oct. 26, 2020, tickets started “counting.” In other words, if someone got a camera-issued speeding ticket on that day, he or she had better not get 14 more before Oct. 26, 2021. The 12-month clock starts when a driver gets his or her first ticket and keeps rolling.

DOT officials have said several thousand people are nabbed 15 times for speeding or five times for red light infractions in a 12-month period. Starting this fall, those who fail to take the course will have their cars seized.

Those details, of course, have to be worked out and, next month, the city will issue a request for expressions of interest from companies, non-profits or anyone else who can run the in-person courses that are central to the program. The sheriff’s department will have to figure out the impounding. The DOT is expected to announce the program at a City Council hearing on Wednesday at 10 a.m. that is mostly about a proposal to shift the NYPD’s collision investigation unit to the DOT — a move the de Blasio administration opposes. Wednesday’s announcement of the dangerous vehicle program funding will likely be seen by some activists as DOT indicating what its priorities are versus those of the Council.

Reckless drivers will reach the 15-ticket threshold increasingly quickly if they don’t reform their ways. The city currently has around 1,400 speed cameras in 750 school zones (which is capped by state law). By the end of the year, the DOT says it will have close to 2,000 cameras in those zones. The mayor is also lobbying Albany to allow the city to keep those cameras on 24 hours a day, seven days a week instead of only on 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays.

“Of course, funding the program is only the first step in stopping reckless driving with a restorative approach,” Lander said. “The goal is to scale up this system. Thanks to speeding and red-light cameras, we can identify the most reckless 1 percent of drivers before they kill people. We will get these people into a course or off the road before they kill someone.”

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