Reckless Driving Law Passed in Senate

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New law would make it easier to punish dangerous drivers; cops could issue penalties without witnessing accidents

Safety advocates have long decried the loopholes in some of New York State's existing traffic laws, especially in those intended to punish drivers who injure cyclists or pedestrians. Hayley and Diego's Law was passed after two young children, Hayley Ng, 4, and Diego Martinez, 3, were killed in 2009 in Chinatown when a delivery van that was left in reverse jumped the curb and hit them. The law (VTL 1146) went into effect in 2010, and imposes the following penalties on drivers whose failure to exercise due care results in the injury or death of pedestrians or bicyclists:

- For the first offense, a fine of $750 or 15 days of jail time, participation in a driving training course, suspension or revocation of the driver's license or registration, or any combination of these penalties.

- For the second offense, any of the above penalties, plus a misdemeanor charge.

Current police policy, however, dictates that an officer cannot issue a violation unless the officer witnesses the crash, which limits the number of incidents in which police departments in New York City and elsewhere will charge a VTL 1146 violation.

The new bill (S3644), sponsored by Senator Daniel Squadron, who represents lower Manhattan, and in the assembly by Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who represents parts of the East Side, would amend Hayley and Diego's Law and make the authority to enforce the law explicit, even if the officer was not present at the time of the crash, as long as the officer has reasonable cause to believe the violation was committed by the driver.

In March, the New York City Council passed a resolution in support of the legislation.

"Our bill will provide law enforcement with additional, vital tools to effectively crack down on careless driving - and send a strong message that a driver's license is not a license for carelessness," said Squadron. "Law enforcement must have every tool at their disposal to protect pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers as we work toward the safer streets New Yorkers need."

Squadron also cited the support of City Council Member James Vacca, a Bronx democrat who is the chair of the council's transportation committee, and advocacy groups Transportation Alternatives and the Tri-State Transportation Committee, for helping get the bill passed in the senate.

"This legislation will make New Yorkers safer by enabling law enforcement to hold careless and distracted drivers accountable when they injure or kill pedestrians or cyclists," said Kavanagh, who hopes to usher the bill through the assembly. "Senator Squadron and I have heard the concerns of police and safety advocates about the difficulty issuing violations under current law, even when there's a serious accident. This bill addresses those concerns and also makes it clear that highway workers are entitled to the same protections as other pedestrians.

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, and Veronica Vanterpool, executive director of Tri-State Transportation Campaign, both applauded the legislation for "closing a legal loophole." Both groups advocate for less dependence on cars and better infrastructure and laws to promote cycling and walking.

"This legislation will go a long way toward holding drivers accountable for careless behavior - including the carelessness that took the lives of Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez," said Gigi Li, chair of Community Board 3, which includes the Chinatown neighborhood where the children were killed.

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