Bill to Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists Will Resurface in Albany

VUannouncement.JPGAssembly Member Brian Kavanagh, speaking, with Daniel Squadron and Scott Stringer at last year's rally for Hayley and Diego's Law. To Squadron's right are Wendy Cheung, Hayley Ng's aunt, and Jon Adler, representative for the families of Ng and Diego Martinez.

With the state legislative session underway, Albany will soon turn its attention to business that lawmakers never got the chance to address last year. One bill to keep an eye on would give police and prosecutors a new tool to protect pedestrians and cyclists.

After two preschoolers were killed in Chinatown last January by a van driver who left his vehicle idling and unattended, lawmakers and advocates drafted "Hayley and Diego's Law." The bill is what's known as a "vulnerable user law." It would create a new offense called careless driving, which would carry penalties of up to $750 in fines and 15 days in jail for drivers who hit and injure vulnerable street users -- including all pedestrians and cyclists.  

The basic purpose of the bill is to create an intermediate offense appropriate for situations in which prosecutors cannot, or will not, bring criminally negligent homicide or vehicular manslaughter charges. Law enforcement will still need to be pressed to prosecute cases of careless driving, as well as to bring stronger existing criminal charges when warranted. Says Peter Goldwasser of Transportation Alternatives, "Part of our job as advocates will be to make sure that law enforcement knows there are new laws on the books." Passing this law will go a long way toward making it easier for police and prosecutors to pursue justice for victims of traffic violence.

Goldwasser expects slight revisions to be complete in the next few weeks. After that, the timeline is less clear. "Traditionally in Albany, everything happens at the very last minute," Goldwasser noted, although, he added, "we know that Senator Squadron and Assembly Member Kavanagh are rearing to go." Goldwasser expects support from both Democrats and Republicans.

Vulnerable user laws have been passed in Oregon and Illinois. Jonathan Maus, editor-in-chief of BikePortland, says the success of his state's law isn't so much the additional prosecutions -- until judges and police grow more comfortable with the law, the numbers will remain small -- but rather the cultural effect. "The biggest thing is that it codifies a new definition for people who aren't in cars," he says. "It's given the whole process a way to look at people on the road." The Portland police department's new policy of investigating all crashes in which a vulnerable user needs an ambulance would never have been implemented without the law, he said, even though it wasn't required by the new legislation.