Mayor Says He’ll Act on Reckless Drivers, But Leaves Out the ‘How’

It is so hard to get reckless drivers off the road.
It is so hard to get reckless drivers off the road.

Mayor Adams said on Saturday that he’ll proactively get reckless drivers off the road, but he has not said how he plans to do that.

Lost in Hizzoner’s historic announcement of $904 million in budget allocations for street safety improvements was a stray remark from the former NYPD captain about how he would use his octopine enforcement arms to “find [reckless drivers] proactively, and get them off the streets.”

Details, however, have not been provided.

First, the news. Mayor Adams heartened street safety advocates with his comments at his Saturday press conference about the budget allocation. But here were his comments on enforcement and reckless driving:

We want to lean into the enforcement aspect of it; we must be more proactive than reactive. … We want to just find out what is going on. We’re going to be convening a series of meetings with our precinct personnel, zeroing in on those dangerous intersections, and really push back on the number of traffic crashes that we are seeing, that we think we could take a more stronger approach to it. … There are people who are habitual, dangerous drivers. They speed, they have a total disregard for others, they are all always in a rush, no matter where they’re going, they don’t believe that there’s a speed limit. We need to find them proactively, and get them off the streets. And they’re continuous abusers, they have a total disregard for our streets and the safety of our citizens. Too many New Yorkers have lost their lives, and we are committed to stop this increase.”

The comment raises many questions, all of which we asked City Hall:

  • “We’re going to be convening a series of meetings with our precinct personnel”: What does that mean? When will this confab take place? What information do current precinct commanders lack? Will the mayor demand that NYPD officers take enforcement seriously, which they have failed to do?
  • “There are people who are habitual, dangerous drivers”: As the mayor may know, there are currently thousands of drivers who have accumulated 15 camera-issued speeding tickets and/or five camera-issued red-light tickets in a 12-month period — the threshold for being forced to take the city’s road safety course. But only 206 drivers have taken the course, according to the Department of Transportation, with another 261 notified that they must take it, and another 100 letters about to go out. Thirteen people as of April 28 are scheduled to take the course. So is the mayor suggesting that he wants to expand the existing, and small, Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program? Does he wish to reduce the threshold of tickets required to trigger the safety class? Will he fight in Albany to change the law to allow camera-issued tickets to count against a driver’s record?
  • “They speed, they have a total disregard for others”: Many of these disrespectful speeders are city employees, especially in the NYPD, as Streetsblog has reported. Many of them are encouraged to drive to work because of a broken placard system and reserved parking at their station houses, as Streetsblog has also reported. Will the mayor do something to rein in this cycle of entitlement? Will he have NYPD officers and traffic agents ticket cars belonging to NYPD officers and traffic agents?
  • “We need to find them proactively, and get them off the streets”: As the mayor well knows, if drivers get 14 or fewer camera-issued speeding tickets in 12 months, and pay their tickets, there is currently no way to “get them” off the streets. And even when drivers fail to pay their tickets, there is a huge backlog of cars that need to be towed away, as we saw when a driver with 120 speeding and red-light tickets smashed into a war memorial in Park Slope. That driver had exceeded the threshold of unpaid tickets to be towed away — yet was not. Nor was the driver who killed 3-month-old Apolline Guillemin last year. So is the mayor proposing to purchase dozens more tow trucks to remove scofflaw vehicles? Does the mayor have a plan for finding the cars of drivers who park off-street? Will the mayor at least resume the towing that was paused for the Covid pandemic?
  • “Too many New Yorkers have lost their lives, and we are committed to stop this increase”: There are currently several pending state bills that specifically address the enforcement side that the mayor highlighted over the weekend.
    • S764A: This bill would trigger a license suspension for any driver who gets three or more speeding violations in 12 months, down from the current 18 months.
    • S3241: This bill would trigger a 60-day license suspension for two school-zone speed violations in 18 months.
    • S5602: This bill is the granddaddy of them all. Most important, it would reauthorize the city’s speed camera program, which is due to sunset in July, and allow the city to operate the cameras 24-7. Beyond that, it would also require the state DMV to inform insurance companies when a driver trips a speed camera five times or more in two years. And it would require the DMV to suspend the registration for 90 days on any car that has been photographed speeding six or more times within two years. It is known that Mayor Adams supports the camera reauthorization, but it is not clear if he supports the other provisions of the bill.
How Streetsblog covered the Baby Apolline story.
How Streetsblog covered the Baby Apolline story.

We asked City Hall all these questions and got back a sentence fragment from spokesman Charles Lutvak: “Nothing to add to the mayor’s remarks.”

Advocates were disheartened a bit.

“Mayor Adams’s strong words are encouraging, but as a former NYPD captain, it’s imperative that he start with his own police force,” said Eric McClure, the executive director of StreetsPAC. “The blocks around NYPD precinct houses are thick with personal vehicles with illegally altered or obscured license plates, and the police have so obviously pulled back on roadway enforcement that many drivers ignore the law with impunity. Making it unmistakably clear to cops that they need to both obey and enforce vehicle and traffic laws, and getting Albany to unshackle automated enforcement, will put a big dent in lawless driving, and pursuing legal means of seizing the worst offenders’ cars will do even more. The city of course needs to do more to redesign streets for safety, but even the best design is no match for a 700hp Dodge Hellcat.”

But State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, who has authored several of the bills above, plus other street safety initiatives in the so-called Crash Victims Rights and Safety Act package, said he believes road violence has gotten so bad that the legislature will come together to pass bills that will help get reckless drivers off the road. (How bad? The first quarter of 2022 was the deadliest start to a year in the entire Vision Zero initiative, Streetsblog reported last week.)

“People seem to recognize we are in a crisis moment,” Gounardes said. “My colleagues say they can’t believe how much traffic violence is happening.” He added that City Hall has been supportive of his efforts.

But therein lies the challenge to the mayor’s nod to proactivity. If drivers keep paying their tickets, and camera-issued tickets continue to not apply to a driver’s record, there’s nothing he can do to get them off the road (and, indeed, not much has changed since Streetsblog raised this question in 2009). And if Gounardes is successful in getting registration suspensions, Adams is going to need a bigger towing unit (and bigger tow pounds) to store all the scofflaws’ cars.

Indeed, the “devil is in the details,” said Sara Lind, the policy director for the livable streets group, Open Plans (which is under the same 501(c)(3) non-profit status as Streetsblog).

“We were excited to hear the mayor acknowledge the need to get ‘continuous abusers’ off the street, but the devil’s in the details,” she said. “If the mayor is serious, he can start by directing the NYPD and the Sheriff to coordinate on towing these vehicles, then he can push the Council to amend the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program and lobby Albany to pass the CVRSA and Gounardes’s home rule bill. We know what works, we just need the mayor to get stuff done.”

Open Plans and other groups will lobby Albany legislators on May 4 at the state Capitol. Sign up here.

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