Senate Committee Votes to Close Loophole in Careless Driving Law

Just hours after the City Council transportation committee unanimously passed a resolution asking Albany to take action, the Senate transportation committee advanced a bill, with an 18-1 vote, that would close a loophole in Hayley and Diego’s Law, with the goal of increased enforcement of the state’s careless driving law by police and district attorneys.

The driver who killed Hayley Ng, 4, and Diego Martinez, 3, walked away without charges. Photos via Daily News

The law is named after Hayley Ng, 4, and Diego Martinez, 3, who were killed when a driver left his parked van in reverse, allowing it to roll into a group of pre-schoolers on a Chinatown sidewalk in 2009. No charges were filed against the driver by Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau or his successor Cy Vance.

The law provides a middle ground between summonses for trafic violations and more serious criminal charges, such as criminally negligent homicide, which due in part to restrictive state court decisions rarely lead to convictions.

A driver charged under Hayley and Diego’s Law can receive a combination of the following penalties: a fine up to $750 or 15 days in jail, a mandated driving course, and suspension or revocation of the driver’s license or registration. For the second offense, the driver could also be charged with a misdemeanor.

Because Hayley and Diego’s Law is technically categorized as a traffic violation, like failure to yield or speeding, NYPD will not issue a summons unless an officer personally witnesses the offense or the department’s Collision Investigation Squad launches an investigation.

Many of the law’s supporters view the loophole closure as an extra step that is only necessary because NYPD is reluctant to enforce the existing law. “We are strongly of the view that Hayley and Diego’s law, as passed, can be used,” bill sponsor Daniel Squadron told Streetsblog this afternoon. At yesterday’s hearing, Council Member Dan Halloran, calling the loophole closure “long overdue,” made a similar observation.

As it’s currently enforced, the law “results in officers disregarding the testimony of eye witnesses, or even admissions of the driver, when determining the cause of a crash,” said Transportation Alternatives in a statement.

The loophole closure directly addresses this issue, telling law enforcement that they can issue a violation even if the crash “did not take place in the presence of the police officer.”

“The officer needs to have reasonable cause; they cant just do it if they feel like it,” Squadron said, adding that due process in the courts is another check to ensure that a summons was rightly issued.

There is no anticipated date for a vote by the full Senate, which after Thursday will not reconvene until April 15. “We’re hopeful to have one shortly,” Squadron told Streetsblog. “This has gotten bipartisan support.” At today’s committee hearing, Sen. Bill Perkins of Harlem was the lone vote against closing the loophole.

Next up is the accompanying Assembly bill, sponsored Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. His office said today that he will request the bill get a hearing before the Assembly’s transportation committee in April, after budget negotiations are complete.