Thanks to Albany and NYPD, Careless Driving Law Will Keep Gathering Dust

For the second year in a row, a bill to bring an end to NYPD’s self-imposed ban on penalizing motorists for careless driving has passed the State Senate, but apparently won’t clear the Assembly.

NYPD refuses to enforce the law named after Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng, who were killed by a careless driver in 2009. As in 2013, a bill to amend the law’s language passed the State Senate, but stalled in the Assembly transportation committee.

Sponsored by Senator Dan Squadron, the bill would amend the state “vulnerable user” law by explicitly stating that officers may ticket or arrest drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists whether or not they directly observe an infraction, as long as there is reasonable cause to believe a violation was committed. The vulnerable user law is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, preschoolers who were killed in 2009 when a driver’s unattended and idling van rolled onto a Chinatown sidewalk. The driver was not charged by former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau or his successor Cy Vance.

Enacted in 2010, Hayley and Diego’s Law was intended as a default infraction for crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. But current NYPD protocol prohibits precinct officers from issuing tickets under VTL 1146, the state statute that includes Hayley and Diego’s Law as well as Elle’s Law. According to the department, the summonses don’t stand up in court unless an officer witnesses a violation, or the summons is issued by trained investigators from the Collision Investigation Squad. Under former commissioner Ray Kelly, NYPD normally applied VTL 1146 only in cases of very serious injury or death — the only types of crashes worked by CIS. Fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

The Senate passed Squadron’s amendment to the law Tuesday. “This bill advances an important goal of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative,” said Squadron in a written statement. “It protects pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers by updating ‘Hayley and Diego’s Law’ to make clear that careless drivers can be charged, even if the crash a driver caused did not take place in the presence of a police officer. This important change is highlighted in Vision Zero as a way to protect vulnerable road users and crack down on careless driving.”

The Assembly companion bill, however, has sat in the transportation committee, chaired by Rochester representative David Gantt, since January. Sponsored by Brian Kavanagh, the bill has just three co-sponsors. With one day left in the session, it looks like the Assembly will fail to move the bill, as it did in 2013.

As part of his Vision Zero plan, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants Albany to elevate careless driving to a misdemeanor, which would allow officers to act based on probable cause, whether or not they witness a crash. The City Council passed a resolution in support of the change last month, but it appears no bill materialized in Albany. A query to de Blasio staff concerning Hayley and Diego’s Law was not returned.