Three Strikes Bill Would Terminate Licenses of Serial Dangerous Drivers

One of the more pernicious shortcomings of New York State’s slapdash traffic justice system is its failure to keep dangerous drivers off the road. As long as repeat offenders pay their fines and don’t get caught driving drunk, they can for the most part count on holding on to a drivers license, no matter how many tickets they receive, even if they cause a fatality.

Peter and Lillian Sabados of Staten Island were killed in 2009 by a driver who had a history of reckless driving and dozens of license suspensions.

A bi-partisan group of state legislators is pushing to terminate — permanently — the licenses of New York motorists who habitually break the law. Assembly Member James Tedisco, Republican from Schenectady and former minority leader, last week called on Governor Cuomo to get behind Charlotte’s Law, which would apply the “three strikes” principle to traffic code violations.

In January 2010, Schenectady pedestrian Charlotte Gallo was fatally struck by a driver who, according to the Times Union, had 23 prior citations for traffic offenses and had been involved in 10 crashes. His penalty for killing Gallo: a $100 fine for failure to yield and a one-year license revocation. Charlotte’s Law would permanently take away the licenses of those convicted of any of these offenses three or more times in 25 years: DUI or DWI; a violation of VTL 1146, which includes the state’s vulnerable user laws; or vehicular manslaughter.

“We have a lot of rights,” said Tedisco at a May 24 Capitol press conference. “[But] one of those rights isn’t the privilege to have a license to drive a car. It’s an important privilege, but it’s not a right. And when you take that irresponsibly, and you take that over and over and over again, to get in that vehicle and make it a two-ton weapon because you’re under the influence or you just don’t give a damn and you’re reckless … there comes a point where we just have to say ‘enough is enough.’”

Under the proposed legislation, a person caught behind the wheel after a permanent license revocation, regardless of the reason behind the traffic stop, would be subject to a felony charge and a jail sentence of up to four years.

Charlotte’s Law has two Assembly Democrats as co-sponsors: Peter Rivera of the Bronx and Fred Thiele from Suffolk County. The Senate version has two sponsors, both upstate Republicans. The Times Union reports that similar legislation, introduced by Brooklyn Republican Marty Golden, cleared the Senate in 2011.

A separate bill, introduced by Republican Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis, would revoke a driver’s license and vehicle registration for 10 years following a third drunk driving conviction. That bill also passed the Senate last year.

In a letter to Cuomo [PDF], Tedisco asked the governor to use the power of his office to crack down on lawless driving.

“In addition to seeking your support for this measure,” wrote Tedisco, “I would respectfully ask you to do everything in your power, administratively, to implement the spirit of this legislation and permanently terminate driver’s license privileges of serial drunk and dangerous drivers.”