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Posts from the "New York State DMV" Category

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New York Driver’s Ed Is a Joke

Want a driver’s license? It’s easy. Fill out some paperwork and pop on over to the DMV to take a 20-question test for your learner’s permit. Then, get in some practice with a licensed driver. (But if you’re over 18, you can just ignore that part!) Then sit through a five-hour course before taking a quick road test, like these people. Total cost: about $50 and a few hours. Once your license expires, you can renew it with a few clicks online.

No wonder the United States has such a high traffic fatality rate.

Compare this to Germany, where people are less than half as likely to be killed in traffic. In a new video, CNET’s Brian Cooley explains German requirements for learning to operate a high-speed, multi-ton piece of heavy machinery.

The process starts with 14 to 20 hours of technical training, sometimes more, Cooley says, including a test with 30 multiple-choice questions that determines whether you know how to react to any conceivable situation in traffic. That’s followed by at least twelve 90-minute training sessions behind the wheel, including four on the Auotbahn and three at night. If your instructor isn’t satisfied, you could be sent back for additional training sessions.

Then there’s another written exam that plumbs the depths of German traffic law. Three wrong answers is an automatic failure. Fail it three times, and you have to go back to the technical training sessions. And if you learn on an automatic transmission instead of standard, your license prohibits you from driving anything but an automatic. The entire process takes three to six months and can cost about $2,500.

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Hoylman to New York State DMV: Stop Unlawfully Penalizing NYC Cyclists

State Senator Brad Hoylman is asking the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles to stop issuing improper fines and adding drivers license points for bicycling tickets.

State Senator Brad Hoylman

State Senator Brad Hoylman

Hoylman also wants DMV to refund money to cyclists who were wrongly fined, and rescind points that should not have been attached to their licenses.

In an August “Street Justice” column, attorney Steve Vaccaro reported that the DMV online ticket payment system does not distinguish between bikes and motor vehicles. This means that cyclists who plead guilty and pay traffic tickets online are billed an $88 surcharge that doesn’t apply to bike violations, and get points on their drivers licenses that don’t legally apply.

The DMV acknowledged in a letter to Vaccaro that the agency was violating the law, and agreed to refund the improper surcharge for two of Vaccaro’s clients, but did not indicate that it would do the same for other cyclists, or change its procedures going forward.

Hoylman, who represents a large swath of Manhattan, is the ranking member of the Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee. Hoylman wrote in a September 2 letter to DMV Commissioner Barbara J. Fiala [PDF]:

I am asking that DMV immediately end the practice of unlawfully charging bicyclists surcharge fees and levying points on their driver licenses, and that the agency alter its online payment system and pre-printed traffic summons forms to clearly reflect bicyclists’ exemption from surcharge fees and driver license points.

Hoylman also asked that DMV supply his office with data on how many cyclists were illegally billed and penalized with license points in the last five years, and that DMV “immediately refund any such overpayments and rescind improperly levied points.”

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New York State DMV Admits to Cheating Cyclists, But Doesn’t Say It Will Stop

The New York State DMV admits that it is incorrectly overcharging cyclists for traffic violations and wrongly adding points to their drivers licenses, but the agency hasn’t agreed to stop doing it.

In his most recent Streetsblog column, attorney Steve Vaccaro pointed out that the DMV’s online payment system does not distinguish between bikes and motor vehicles. As a result, cyclists who plead guilty and pay traffic tickets online are stuck with an $88 surcharge that doesn’t apply to bike violations, and are getting points on their licenses that don’t legally apply.

Vaccaro got a letter from the DMV today acknowledging that, under state law, “there are no points assigned for violations committed by bicyclists,” and that the law “exempts bicycle violations from the mandatory surcharge.”

The DMV agreed to refund the surcharge for two of Vaccaro’s clients, but the letter did not indicate that the agency would fix its web site, or give other cyclists their money back and remove license points they shouldn’t have.

In a letter back to DMV, Vaccaro wrote, “Going forward, it appears that remedying this problem will require more than a reminder to the DMV clerical staff.” In addition to modifying its online payment system, Vaccaro says the traffic ticket form used by NYPD should be changed to “make clear” that the surcharge is not “’mandatory’ for cyclists.”

“They haven’t in any way addressed the web site,” Vaccaro told Streetsblog, ”and they are still sitting on $88/per cyclist moving violations for the last ‘x’ number of years.”

We’ll continue to follow this story as it develops. In the meantime, if you believe you were overcharged or wrongly given license points by DMV within the last two years, you can contact Vaccaro’s office.

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DMV Cheating Cyclists With Unlawful Surcharges and License Points

street_justice2

As NYPD’s latest bike ticket blitz — “Operation Safe Cycle” – rolls into its second week, here at my law firm we’ve been getting more than the usual number of phone calls and emails from cyclists with questions about summonses. Usually the big question in these discussions is whether to plead guilty, not how to plead guilty. But now it appears that if you pay your fine online for a moving violation while cycling, you’ll probably be paying an $88 surcharge that you shouldn’t be, and getting points on your license that don’t belong there.

The problem arises when cyclists make their plea and pay the fine online, as most who receive traffic tickets in New York City do. Even though traffic tickets issued to cyclists usually indicate on their face that the vehicle is a “bicycle,” the DMV’s online payment system appears to ignore this fact.

Yet the DMV’s own rules with respect to surcharges and license points make crystal clear that they do not apply to cyclists. The specific provisions of law that exempt cyclists from the $88 surcharge and from points are set forth in a letter we recently sent to the DMV demanding that it cease and desist from applying these unlawful penalties. We have yet to receive a response.

This is no simple computer glitch either. Judging from the pre-printed traffic forms supplied by the DMV, you’d think it’s trying deliberately to trick cyclists into overpaying their fines. The form states: “included in the total amount for each violation (except equipment) are mandatory surcharges in the amount of $88. Equipment violations include mandatory surcharges of $58.”

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Bronx DWI Pedestrian Killer Gets 90 Days and Six-Month License Suspension

A judge sentenced a convicted drunk driver to just 90 days in jail and a six-month license suspension for killing a pedestrian in the Bronx.

Thomas Riley, 23, was crossing East Fordham Road near Bathgate Avenue at around 4:20 a.m. on March 20, 2011, when 48-year-old Seth Johnson struck and killed him with a minivan, according to a Post story published the day after the crash.

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Riley worked as a barber and had a young son. “My family is now torn apart because a drunk driver took his life away,” Riley’s sister told the Post.

Johnson was charged by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson with manslaughter, homicide, speeding, reckless driving, leaving the scene, and separate counts of driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Last December a jury acquitted Johnson of manslaughter, homicide, and leaving the scene, finding him guilty on one count of driving drunk and one count of driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol.

“As a prosecutor, I accept the verdict of the jury,” Bronx vehicular crime chief Joe McCormack told Streetsblog after the trial. “We brought what we felt were appropriate charges, and we did the best we could trying the case.”

Johnson faced a year in jail, but on March 28, Judge Nicholas J. Iacovetta sentenced him to 90 days, three years probation, and $870 in fines, according to court records. His license was suspended for six months. So unless the New York State DMV takes action to keep him off the road, Johnson could driving again before long.

From the Daily News:

“He will be in jail for less than three months and I have to live with a life sentence,” the victim’s mother, Aurea Rivera, said after Bronx Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Iacovetta read the decision. “I want the laws changed so that no one else has to suffer like us.”

Rivera, joined in the courtroom by nearly a dozen friends and relatives, read a statement before the court and called on Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials to toughen vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving laws.

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Until Now, NYS DMV Shielded Driver Violation Histories From Prosecutors

Governor Cuomo announced this week that the state Department of Motor Vehicles will make additional traffic violation data available to prosecutors, but it’s too soon to tell if the change will help make more cases against dangerous drivers.

A Monday press release from Cuomo’s office said prosecutors will in the future be able to obtain information on traffic charges dating back 10 years, even if the original charge was reduced through a plea bargain. Affected charges include violations resulting in license points, drug- and alcohol-related offenses, and aggravated unlicensed operation. The information will be shared so ”prosecutors can make more informed judgments when considering a plea for a current driving charge,” the press release said.

There were a couple of disturbing points about Cuomo’s announcement. One is that this information is only just now being opened up to prosecutors. The second is that drivers are often able to get away with speeding by pleading down to an unrelated charge.

Many times when a motorist goes to court, the original ticket is pled down to a lesser charge. Often this is done because the prosecutor or the court is not aware that the driver has a pattern of dangerous driving behaviors. As an example, it is common practice for courts and prosecutors to allow motorists charged with speeding offenses to plead those charges down to lesser offenses such as parking violations.

In 2010, in town, village, city and district courts, 129,628 speeding charges were pled down from a speeding violation to “parking on pavement.” In 2011, 112,996 such pleas were accepted.

A speeding ticket can add three to 11 license points and can result in DMV action against a license, the press release says. while a “parking on pavement” charge carries no license points. 

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, which advocates for transparency in state government, said the policy change was a positive step, but doubted it would make a difference in the number of prosecutions.

“The question is, how will this work in practice?” said Kaehny. “If it’s not totally automated, it won’t be used except in the most serious cases. Prosecutors and investigators are not going to make ad hoc requests to DMV for the tens of thousands cases they see. My guess is that this will be used only for building prosecutions against drivers who kill or almost kill.”

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Will the New York DMV Keep an Unlicensed Killer on the Road?

When a driver in New York loses his license, it’s up to the state Department of Motor Vehicles to decide when, or if, he gets it back. Based on a recent hearing attended by Streetsblog, the DMV adjudication process at times relies primarily on testimony from drivers involved in fatal crashes, rather than police reports or other evidence.

The New York State DMV may put the man who killed Clara Heyworth while driving without a license back behind the wheel. Photo via New York Times

Anthony Webb hit Clara Heyworth with a Honda Accord in the early morning hours of July 10, 2011, as she crossed Vanderbilt Avenue near Dekalb Avenue to meet her husband, Jacob Stevens. Heyworth, 28, died the next day. Webb, 43, was charged with driving while intoxicated, operation of a motor vehicle by an unlicensed driver, reckless driving, reckless endangerment, and assault, among other violations. But after NYPD bungled its investigation of the crash, all charges were dropped except unlicensed driving and driving without an insurance card, to which Webb pled guilty.

On January 28, Webb appeared before administrative law judge Marc Berger for a hearing to, according to the DMV notice, “determine whether or not any registrations, license and/or driving privileges should be suspended or revoked.” In a cramped, windowless room in a building in the Financial District, Webb sat across a conference table from Stevens and his attorney, Steve Vaccaro. (Disclosure: Vaccaro’s law firm is a Streetsblog sponsor.)

Berger set the tone right away. Having only a seven-page police report to work from — an NYPD witness failed to show — Berger did not know where the crash had occurred. When Stevens, who saw it happen, began to tell him the location, Berger snapped at Vaccaro, “He’s not to say anything. You’re strictly observers, both of you, unless I allow you to ask questions.” Minutes later, as Vaccaro looked at his notes, Berger said: “Please stop shuffling papers. Don’t touch another paper. Put it in your lap or whatever you have to do.”

By contrast, Berger’s attitude toward Webb was, for the most part, casual, if not cordial. More important, Berger looked to Webb to fill in the gaps in the NYPD report.

Berger asked Webb for a forensic analysis of the crash and the crash scene — how fast Webb was driving, the presence of street lights, whether cars were parked on the street, which direction Heyworth was walking, where she landed after the collision, and how the car was damaged.

When Webb hesitated, or struggled to answer, Berger asked leading questions, or filled in the answers himself: ”What did you do when you heard the thump, if anything? Brake?”

Though Webb told Berger that Heyworth was crossing from his right, according to Stevens she was crossing from his left. But Webb had the final say on how the crash occurred. After Webb gave his version of events, Berger said, “Okay, that’s fine. That makes sense. I just need answers, and it doesn’t, you know, I’m not looking to trip you up.”

Berger even relied on Webb to tell him if he had been drinking. When a breath test was administered an hour after the crash, it indicated Webb had a blood alcohol content of .07, according a lawsuit filed by Stevens against NYPD. Prosecutors working for former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes dropped the drunk driving charge against Webb because the 88th Precinct had not calibrated the breath test machine for four years. The machine was later found to be working properly, and prosecutors were publicly admonished by a judge for not pursuing the charge.

Webb told Berger, however, that he was found not guilty of drunk driving, and that he had consumed no alcohol before the crash. This detail was accepted at face value until Vaccaro was permitted to ask questions toward the end of the hearing.

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Cuomo’s Office Opens Up Transpo Data, But Not Crash Locations

On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo announced a new raft of publicly-accessible data on the state’s data transparency website, data.NY.gov. Some of the data sets include information that was already accessible in different forms, while other sets are newly available to the public. The release also includes detailed information about individual crashes from the Department of Motor Vehicles, but it falls short by failing to say where crashes occur.

Good news: Detailed DMV crash data is more easily accessible. Bad news: The data doesn't show where crashes occur. Image: Open NY

In addition to the DMV, the data comes from the MTA, Port Authority, state DOT, and Thruway Authority. Among other things, the data sets include: PATH and ferry ridership; MTA and Thruway Authority capital projects and bids; freight and passenger counts at Port Authority facilities; vehicle registrations; estimates of vehicle miles traveled; subway entrance and exit locations; incident, construction, and event information reported to 511 by agencies; and traffic counts on state roads, MTA and Port Authority crossings.

The new data release was welcomed by good government advocates, who noted that there’s still much more to be done to make information accessible not only to the public, but also to lawmakers and even other agencies. “For years, the public has had to pry basic data out of transportation agencies,” said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany and the NYC Transparency Working Group. “Liberating this data is part of improving transportation decision-making by giving everyone better access to basic information.”

One data set of interest provides monthly eastbound auto, bus, and truck volumes at Port Authority crossings since 2011. The website also includes the number of motor vehicle crashes at Port Authority facilities each year since 2000, but does not provide information about those crashes other than whether they caused fatalities.

Motor vehicle crash information from 2011 reported by the DMV provides much more detail, including information about victims — age, gender, type and severity of injury, and whether they were transported to a hospital. It also features information on the day of the week, type of vehicle, contributing factors, weather, lighting, and road surface conditions. Pedestrian or cyclist involvement is also noted.

But when it comes to locating these crashes, the DMV data only provides the municipality and does not allow users to locate crashes at specific coordinates, or even an address or cross-street. Streetsblog has asked the Cuomo administration why the location information is so limited, and if data from years other than 2011 will be uploaded. We’ll let you know if we get a response.

There was also a step forward for open data this week on the city level: after inquiries and pressure from advocates, the Department of City Planning is no longer charging licensing fees for access to MapPLUTO, its extensive set of tax parcel data. While not explicitly transportation-related, PLUTO is an enormous resource for information about zoning and land use.

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How Cuomo Could Expand DWI Effort to Target All Serial Dangerous Drivers

Governor Cuomo announced Monday that new DMV drivers license rules have taken thousands of dangerous motorists off New York State roads. The changes set an important precedent by mandating the permanent revocation of driving privileges for the worst drunk driving offenders. But since the new policies apply only to DWI violations, the state is still allowing thousands of reckless drivers to keep their licenses.

As long as they aren't drunk, drivers like the one who struck 10 people on a Brooklyn sidewalk, killing a toddler, have nothing to fear from new DMV relicensing rules. Photo: Post

Under the new rules, DMV will not relicense a driver who has five or more DWI convictions in a lifetime, or three or more DWI convictions in 25 years plus another serious driving offense, such as a fatal crash — which is not normally an offense unless the driver is impaired — or the accumulation of 20 or more license points.

Previously, repeat drunk drivers whose licenses were suspended or revoked for up to a year could be relicensed in as little as seven weeks by completing an education program, and drivers with multiple DWI convictions did not permanently lose their licenses unless they were convicted for two DWI crashes resulting in injury.

“We have seen too many times the heartbreak and tragedy that results when a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs gets behind the wheel,” Cuomo said, via press release. “Those who have continually shown a complete lack of regard for the safety of other drivers have no place on New York’s roadways.”

Since the rules took effect last September, the DMV has reviewed 3,891 relicensing applications from drivers with more than two alcohol or drug related offenses, according to the press release. Of those, 1,658 motorists broke the five-or-more DWI convictions rule and were permanently denied relicensing. The remaining 1,506 had three or four DWI convictions, and were denied relicensing for an additional five years, after which they will get restricted licenses and will be required to use an ignition interlock device for five years.

Said Cuomo: “With more than 3,100 potentially dangerous motorists kept off the road since September, it is clear these new regulations have already been a tremendous success at protecting law-abiding New York drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.”

Though this is certainly progress for New York State, it also shows how low the bar is set. After all, under the new rules, people with as many as four DWI convictions — not people who drove drunk four times, but those who were caught, arrested, and convicted four times — continue to drive legally.

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New York DMV No Longer Describes Traffic Crashes as “Accidents” [Updated]

The current DMV data archive page ...

... and the page as it appeared in June 2012.

A sharp-eyed reader pointed out to us that the New York State DMV has stopped using the word “accident” in its annual statistical summaries.

On its 2011 data web page, and in each of its 2011 reports, DMV refers to traffic crashes as “crashes.” “Accident” does not appear in any of the agency’s 2011 materials. The header on the statistical summaries archive page was also changed from “Motor Vehicle Accidents” to “Motor Vehicle Crashes.”

To describe a traffic crash as an accident is to relieve all parties of responsibility. Though there are laws against drinking and driving, for example, as of 2010 the DMV listed alcohol-involved crashes among “accidents with human factors.”

Even when a motorist uses a car as a weapon, the media can’t break the habit. “It looked like the accident happened intentionally,” said a local reporter of a 2008 crash in the Bronx, in which a driver mowed down a man after an argument.

DMV communications staff couldn’t tell us why the change was made at this particular time, but said they expected the agency will use “crash” from now on. The department gave us this statement:

A vehicle crash encompasses a wider range of potential causes than does the term accident. An accident implies something that is not preventable. A majority of crashes are caused by intoxicated, speeding, distracted, or careless drivers and, therefore, are not accidents. That is why the term “crashes” is used not only by the New York State DMV, but also by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Good stuff. Today the DMV, tomorrow the Daily News.

(h/t to Keegan Stephan of Time’s Up!)

Update: Thanks to Transportation Alternatives, which urged the DMV to make this change.