New Bill Would Strengthen Penalties for Dangerous Driving

VUannouncement.JPGAssembly Member Brian Kavanagh, speaking, with Daniel Squadron and Scott Stringer. To Squadron's right are Wendy Cheung, Hayley Ng's aunt, and Jon Adler, representative for the families of Ng and Diego Martinez
Legislation prompted by the deaths of two children in Chinatown would mandate a safety course and community service for drivers who seriously injure or kill a pedestrian or cyclist in New York State.

The bill was announced Thursday by Senator Daniel Squadron and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. They were joined at a City Hall presser by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, whose staff helped write the draft, and Transportation Alternatives. The "Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez Law" would establish the offense of careless driving, and would define pedestrians, cyclists, road workers and others as "vulnerable users" of public thoroughfares.

If passed, drivers who hit people with their vehicles would face "suspension or revocation of a driver's license when the violation resulted in the serious injury or death of a vulnerable user of a public way." As we read the bill, that penalty would be suspended pending the completion of a traffic safety course and up to 60 days of community service. Failure to complete the course and community service would result in action against driving privileges and a fine of up to $10,000.

"We want everybody to stand behind this cause," said Wendy Cheung, aunt of Hayley Ng. "We don’t want this to happen to anyone else. We need justice here." 

Oregon and Illinois have recently established similar "vulnerable user" laws.

While it must be said that -- considering the severity of the senseless devastation caused by reckless drivers -- the penalties prescribed by this bill would be a far cry from true traffic justice, its adoption would nevertheless be a huge step for New York State, and could lay the foundation for tougher laws in the future. After the jump, a sobering passage from the bill summary encapsulates the current "stark reality," where drivers who kill are almost always protected by lax prosecutors and weak state laws.

At present, district attorneys across New York State are faced with an unacceptable choice: pursue vehicular homicide charges, most often in the form of criminally negligent homicide, or bring no charges at all against the drivers who kill vulnerable roadway users. Even where culpability may be shown, criminal charges are rarely filed. This is evidenced by the fact that only 29 indictments for the crime of Criminally Negligent Homicide were brought in New York State in the last fifteen years, 1994-2008. This legislation addresses this stark reality, providing district attorneys who are unable or unwilling to pursue criminal charges with an additional option, creating a greater measure of justice and social deterrence against careless drivers who seriously injure or kill vulnerable roadway users.