New Penalties for Reckless Drivers Now In Effect, But NYPD Isn’t Ready

In May, the City Council passed a package of legislation to crack down on traffic violence. In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bills. Today, one of the most important bills in that package goes into effect: Intro 238, also known as Section 19-190, creates a new criminal misdemeanor charge for reckless drivers. But NYPD’s legal department has yet to create an enforcement directive for officers and investigators on the street.

The driver who killed Jean Chambers would have faced criminal charges, not just a traffic ticket, under a law that took effect today. Photo via DNAinfo

Under the new law, a driver’s failure to yield to a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way is a traffic infraction with a fine of up to $50 or 15 days in jail, or both. If the driver strikes and injures the pedestrian or cyclist, that escalates to a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $250 or 30 days in jail. Unlike a traffic infraction, a misdemeanor charge involves an arrest and a required appearance in court. Guilty pleas or convictions result in not just a fine or possibly jail time, but also a permanent, public criminal record.

Many sober reckless drivers who injure and kill, leaving behind victims including Jean Chambers and Allison Liao, among many others, have until now gotten off with nothing more than a traffic ticket and a fine payable by mail.

But will police use the new tool? Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who helped push for its passage, isn’t so sure. ”At the mayoral signing of 19-190, I tried to buttonhole Transportation Bureau Chief [Thomas] Chan to ask what steps would be taken to inform and train rank and file officers,” he said in an email yesterday. ”He told me he would have to check with department counsel. Last night, I raised the issue with Chief of the Department Banks via Twitter. No reply.”

Vaccaro wants to see the department embrace the new law sooner rather than later. “NYPD has given New Yorkers concerned about street safety no reason to believe that anything will change on August 22 when the misdemeanor law takes effect,” he said.

NYPD did not reply to a request for comment, but City Hall says the department is still looking into it. “This is an important new tool to improve the safety of the streets for pedestrians and cyclists,” said de Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell. “It’s currently going through NYPD legal which analyzes new criminal law and develops enforcement directives.”

Next up: Cooper’s Law, also signed in June, allows the Taxi and Limousine Commission to suspend or revoke the licenses of cab and livery drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws. It takes effect September 21.