PASSED: City Council Establishes DOT Crash Investigation Unit

Long-sought change supplants the NYPD's lead role in probes of road carnage.

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The City Council today passed a landmark, hard-won bill that could lead to the wholesale redesign of dangerous streets citywide — and change how the culture views vehicle crashes.

The bill establishes a crash investigation and analysis unit in the Department of Transportation, which would investigate, analyze and report on all vehicle crashes involving significant injury, make recommendations for safety-improving changes to street design and infrastructure, and post reports of its crash reviews.

The bill, Intro 2224-A, makes the DOT, and not the NYPD, the lead agency in investigating crashes, a change long sought by advocates for street safety. Supporters think the DOT oversight will improve analyses by the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad, which has often been accused of victim-blaming and viewing crashes from a driver’s perspective, as Streetsblog has reported. The new unit also would issue public information about crashes, a reform long sought by victim’s advocates, who say the NYPD exacerbates family trauma with inaccurate public statements. It would also require that the DOT “make recommendations, if any, for safety maximizing changes to street design or infrastructure at the location of such crash, or citywide.”

“This law is a watershed moment, not just in New York, but in cities across the country looking to reimagine how police are involved in traffic enforcement,” said Marco Conner DiAquoi, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, who pointed to the role of the “powerful personal stories” of members of Families for Safe Streets in shaping the legislation.

Conner DiAquoi added: “As we’ve long stated, the NYPD has failed to sufficiently investigate crashes, has retraumatized survivors by victim-blaming, and has communicated false, pro-driver narratives to the press. This legislation will significantly improve how we approach crash investigations, how crashes are communicated to the media, how we better bring justice to survivors, and we applaud the council for passing it today.”

Activist Charles Komanoff, another longtime advocate of reforming the CIS, said that “with the NYPD chokehold over crash investigations now broken, eight million New Yorkers will at last gain a shot at understanding exactly how traffic violence unfolds on our streets and sidewalks. If the next mayor and DOT commissioner seize the moment, the era of dangerous-driver entitlement in our city may finally come to a close.”

Or as Council Speaker Corey Johnson put it simply: “It’s time for us to center DOT as the agency that’s responsible for traffic safety in New York City.” He thanked the chairman of the Transportation Committee, Ydanis Rodriguez, for prodding the legislation to passage.

The bill passed 39 to 10, with no abstentions, after negotiators added explicit language clarifying that the NYPD would retain responsibility for any criminal investigation of reckless drivers following a crash, a sticking point for Mayor de Blasio, the NYPD and local district attorneys. It joined a slate of bills aimed at reforming the NYPD.

The mayor indicated earlier in the day that he would sign the legislation.

“I feel very good about where it is now,” he said at his daily press briefing. “We wanted to make sure [that] DOT has an important role to play and it’s right to expand that, to learn from each and every crash what we have to do differently. We also had a particular set of needs around what the NYPD does when there’s a criminal investigation. I think we’ve squared that, I think it’s good legislation, and I look forward to supporting it.”

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