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Posts from the New York State DMV Category

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Why Was New York State DMV Live-Tweeting the New York Auto Show?

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles was live-tweeting the New York International Auto Show yesterday.

Why would staffers at the government agency charged with regulating motor vehicles and their operators be assigned to tweet photos of the 2016 Chevy Malibu, or wait with press for the big Porsche reveal? We have a message in with the DMV to find out, but it’s hard to imagine how this furthers the mission of administering laws to promote safety.

Sure, scoring passes to a glitzy media event beats sitting behind a desk all day. But this is like the NTSB tweeting Richard Branson’s birthday party. While DMV apparently has the resources to dispatch people to the car show, it hasn’t, say, enacted reforms recommended by crash victims to make streets and roads safe from reckless drivers.

Maybe Governor Muscle Car is filling in before he gets around to appointing a new DMV commissioner.

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DMV Suspends License of Driver Who Killed Mathieu Lefevre for Six Months

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles found the truck driver who killed Brooklyn cyclist Mathieu Lefevre responsible for the collision and suspended his driver’s license for six months.

Mathieu Lefevre. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via Support Justice for Mathieu Lefevre

Leonardo Degianni’s DMV safety hearing took place on March 2, three-and-a-half years after he hit Lefevre at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street. At around midnight on October 19, 2011, Degianni was driving a crane truck, traveling in the same direction as Lefevre, when he struck Lefevre while making a right turn. Degianni did not stop at the scene, and was identified after police found the truck parked a block away.

After initially blaming Lefevre for the crash, NYPD summonsed Degianni for failing to signal and careless driving, but DMV dismissed the tickets. Degianni, who told police he didn’t know he had run Lefevre over, was not charged criminally by NYPD or former Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes.

DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger announced his findings from the hearing on March 6 [PDF]. Based on video evidence and testimony from NYPD Detective Gerard Sheehan, who investigated the crash, Berger determined Degianni did not signal his turn and failed to use his mirrors. “Had he signaled 100 feet prior to turning, as required under VTL section 1163(b), Mr. Lefevre would have been alerted, before he even reached the truck, and been able to protect himself by taking evasive action,” Berger wrote.

Berger found that in addition to failing to signal, Degianni failed to exercise due care. “These violations contributed to the accident and warrant taking action against the license and/or driving privileges of the respondent,” Berger wrote.

Berger’s ruling was posted on a new DMV web page that lists hearings resulting from fatal crashes.

In New York State, a license suspension means a motorist can pay a fee and get his license back after the prescribed period — 180 days in Degianni’s case. While it’s technically not as serious as a revocation, which requires a driver to re-apply for a license, a six-month suspension is notable for the DMV, which has a history of going easy on motorists who kill people.

Steve Vaccaro, attorney for the Lefevre family, said in a statement:

On behalf of the families we represent who have lost loved ones in crashes, I welcome the DMV’s decision and process. Mr. Degianni’s 180-day suspension is one of the most serious sanctions to be applied to a sober, reckless driver in a fatal New York City crash in recent memory. The DMV’s new practice of announcing safety hearing results online is also a welcome step for the agency towards greater transparency and accountability.

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No Word on Whether Trucker Who Killed Mathieu Lefevre Will Keep License

More than three years after the crash, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles held a hearing today to determine whether to take action against the truck driver who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre. But Lefevre’s family will have to wait on a DMV decision.

Mathieu Lefevre. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via Support Justice for Mathieu Lefevre

Lefevre, 30, was killed just after midnight on October 19, 2011, while riding his bike on Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn. As Lefevre approached the intersection of Morgan and Meserole Street, Leonardo Degianni, who was driving a 28-ton crane truck and traveling in the same direction as Lefevre, ran over Lefevre while turning right. Degianni did not stop at the scene, and was identified as the driver after police found the truck parked a block away.

It took a lawsuit and a lot of well-earned negative publicity for NYPD to share information about the crash with Lefevre’s family. NYPD concluded Degianni was unaware he struck Lefevre based on video of the crash. Detective Gerard Sheehan, the crash investigator assigned to the case, also apportioned some blame to Lefevre in his report. Though Degianni did not signal before turning and Lefevre was riding legally, Sheehan said Lefevre “should not have been passing on the right side.”

Lefevre’s family asked Charles Hynes, then the Brooklyn district attorney, to review the case, but Hynes declined to press charges. Degianni was eventually ticketed for failing to signal and careless driving, but the DMV threw out the tickets.

At this morning’s “safety hearing,” DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger heard testimony from Sheehan, who basically repeated the conclusions contained in the NYPD crash report. Berger also reviewed video of the crash, and accepted photos of the scene as evidence.

Berger questioned Sheehan on key details, such as the number and position of the mirrors on the truck, and whether in Sheehan’s opinion Degianni should have known he hit a person on a bicycle. Sheehan at one point indicated he believed Degianni should have seen Lefevre, had he used his mirrors properly, but said police could not determine if Degianni had passed Lefevre prior to the collision. Though the investigation found Degianni made contact with Lefevre on the driver’s side of the truck, Sheehan said drivers of large vehicles often say they didn’t detect running someone over.

Berger did not render a decision today.

Today’s proceeding was a vast improvement over the 2014 hearing when Berger asked the driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth for his analysis of the crash scene. But the DMV adjudication process is still biased to favor motorists who kill people.

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DMV Revoked License of Driver Who Killed Allison Liao for Just 30 Days

The motorist who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao could be back behind the wheel before long, as the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles revoked his license for just 30 days.

Photo: Brad Aaron

Following a hearing in early January, DMV administrative law judge Sidney Fuchs determined that Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh failed to yield the right of way when he ran over Allison as she walked hand in hand with her grandmother across Main Street in Flushing on October 6, 2013. The DMV revoked Abu-Zayedeh’s license, but the length of the revocation was not announced.

“The respondent failed to use due care, as required by VTL Section 1146, to avoid colliding with a pedestrian,” Fuchs wrote in his January 13 decision [PDF]. “There was no credible testimony as to why the respondent did not avoid this collision.”

Though Fuchs found Abu-Zayedeh at fault, he could be driving again as soon as March. A revocation period of “at least 30 days” begins on February 13, according to DMV documents. After 30 days, Abu-Zayedeh may petition the DMV to have his driving privileges reinstated.

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, Allison’s parents, were not available for comment, but issued a statement through their attorney, Steve Vaccaro: “While Judge Fuchs correctly determined that the driver failed to use due care, it is shocking to learn that this is the official consequence of such an outrageous act.”

The DMV does not publicly post records of hearing outcomes or license revocations and suspensions, making it exceedingly difficult to gauge how this 30-day penalty compares to other cases. However, driving while intoxicated carries a mandatory six-month license revocation, as does “homicide, assault or criminal negligence resulting in death from the operation of a motor vehicle,” according to the DMV.

Last year, Families For Safe Streets met with DMV representatives to recommend several agency reforms, including regular publication of hearing outcomes and other data. The DMV has not contacted Families For Safe Streets since then and has not said if it plans to reform its protocols.

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Last Call to Make Sure DMV Properly Refunds Biking Tickets

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Last summer, we learned that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles was charging motorist-only surcharges of $88, and applying motorist-only driver’s license penalty points, to cyclists who pled or were found guilty of traffic violations. Our law firm brought a class action to address DMV’s unlawful penalization of cyclists as if they were drivers.

DMV’s response? Refund a “sample” of the surcharges, limit the same wrongful penalties going forward, and urge the court to dismiss the class action suit as “moot” in light of the agency’s hasty and incomplete effort to make up for its mistakes.

Last week, DMV filed its motion to dismiss the class action.

If you want to help make sure that every cyclist wrongfully penalized by DMV gets refunded the unlawful $88 surcharge and has the unlawful points lifted from his or her driver’s license, read on.

Read more…

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DMV Revokes License of Driver Who Killed Allie Liao

Chris Robbins at Gothamist reports that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has revoked the license of Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, who struck and killed 3-year-old Allie Liao in a Queens crosswalk in 2013. The decision by administrative law judge Sidney Fuchs reinforces the importance of DMV safety hearings as a venue to ensure that reckless drivers face consequences for killing other people.

Photo: Brad Aaron

On October 6, 2013, Abu-Zayedeh failed to yield to Allie and her grandmother as they crossed Main Street in Flushing with the signal. With Queens District Attorney Richard Brown declining to prosecute and a DMV judge offhandedly tossing the two tickets that had been issued to Abu-Zayedeh, the DMV safety hearing on January 6 was perhaps the last opportunity to hold him accountable for ending Allie Liao’s life.

Fuchs did not render a decision on the day of the hearing, but a DMV spokesperson told Gothamist that the judge revoked Abu-Zayedeh’s license on January 13. The length of the revocation has yet to be announced, reports Robbins.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who represents the Liaos, has been raising the profile of DMV safety hearings in a series of Streetsblog posts. He gave this statement in response to the DMV’s decision:

On behalf of the Liao family and the many others who have lost family members to traffic violence, I welcome the news that the New York State DMV has revoked the license of Ahmed Abu-Zayedeh, who struck and killed 3 year old Ally Liao in the crosswalk while she crossed with the right of way, hand-in-hand with her grandmother. This sanction cannot compensate for the harm caused — nothing can. But it affirms our shared understanding that driving is a privilege, not a right, to be forfeited when thoughtless or reckless acts cause grave harm.

Currently, DMV does not appear to be adhering to its policy of holding safety hearings within one year of a fatal crash. The hearing for Abu-Zayedeh happened 15 months after the crash that killed Allie Liao. The safety hearing to review the license of Leonardo Degianni, who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre more than three years ago, in October 2011, is scheduled for January 27. Even these delayed hearings may not have happened without public pressure from Vaccaro and victims’ families.

One of the planks in Families For Safe Streets’ DMV reform agenda is to hold these hearings promptly and transparently, with quarterly reports about outcomes. The decision to revoke Abu-Zayedeh’s license is a sign that these reforms matter and can keep dangerous drivers off the streets.

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Justice for Mathieu Lefevre

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Change is afoot at the New York Department of Motor Vehicles. Following a meeting with advocates for crash victims, the DMV scheduled safety hearings to determine whether three drivers who caused fatal crashes would lose their licenses. The first of the three — concerning the death of three year-old Allison Liao — saw several welcome improvements in the safety hearing process, including in-person testimony from investigating police officers, presentation of video evidence, and an unusual degree of press access.

A second safety hearing, scheduled for January 27, will address the death of artist Mathieu Lefevre, killed in 2011 while cycling home in East Williamsburg. Lefevre’s parents’ demands for transparency and justice from NYPD crash investigators led to increased oversight of NYPD and jump-started the local Vision Zero movement. A DMV order suspending the driver’s license was mysteriously reversed, and the tickets issued to the driver were dismissed by a DMV judge — just as in the Liao case.

Unless NYPD investigators attend the hearing and present the evidence of wrongdoing by the driver, Leonardo Degianni (summarized below), he will receive no penalty or sanction at all — not even a traffic ticket. The Lefevre hearing presents an important test of whether NYPD and DMV are committed to ensuring meaningful consequences for sober reckless drivers who kill.

Degianni’s Involvement in the Crash

Mathieu Lefevre was struck by the driver of a 28-ton crane truck, who left the scene. Based on surveillance video recovered from a nearby warehouse and blood evidence found on the front bumper of the truck, NYPD investigators identified the truck as one driven by Leonardo Degianni. But Degianni has refused to watch the video, and his statements suggest he plans to escape responsibility for the crash by claiming that police misidentified the truck.

The NYPD detectives who investigated the crash can readily prove that the truck was Degianni’s. Although the video is not of the best quality, the detectives who collected it can establish that it contains date and time metadata consistent with the crash. Moreover, investigators can testify that they found blood on the driver’s side of the front bumper of the truck just hours after the crash. Without this testimony, the judge at the hearing will have to make an identification based on pictures and the video:

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Victims’ Families Demand Changes From DMV at Vigil for Allison Liao

Nearly 100 people attended a vigil last night for Allison Liao and demanded reforms from the state DMV. Photo: Anna Zivarts/Flickr

Nearly 100 people attended a vigil last night in Flushing for Allison Liao, where they demanded reforms from the DMV, including tougher penalties for reckless drivers. Photo: Anna Zivarts/Flickr

Undeterred by the cold, nearly 100 people gathered at the corner of Main Street and Cherry Avenue in Flushing last night to remember 3-year-old Allison Liao, killed by a driver in October 2013. State DMV administrative judges had already dismissed the two tickets issued to the driver, 44-year-old Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, before putting off a judgment at a special safety hearing yesterday. Allison’s parents, Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, joined other traffic violence victims and their supporters last night to demand policy changes from the DMV.

“A big problem with not having consequences for reckless drivers is that they don’t think they did anything wrong. So these drivers continue to drive the way they did, possibly hurting or killing somebody else,” Tam said. She added that Abu-Zayedeh has refused to watch video of the crash and continues to blame Allison’s death on her grandmother, who was holding her hand in the crosswalk before the crash. “The DMV could play a major role in helping New York City get to Vision Zero, but so far our experience has been bad.”

The five reforms proposed by Families for Safe Streets are:

  • A mandatory three-month license suspension for serious offenses while driving.
  • Changes to the DMV point system so that higher point values apply to violations where someone is seriously injured or killed, and drivers cannot use adjournments to push points outside the 18-month window and avoid suspension.
  • A mandatory license suspension of at least three months for commercial drivers who accrue six or more penalty points.
  • Mandatory, prompt and publicly-noticed safety hearings at which victims, their families, and NYPD crash investigators can attend, present evidence and make statements, as well as quarterly reporting of aggregate safety hearing outcomes and other statistics.
  • DMV adoption of the equivalent of the Federal Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights for the families of crash victims.

Families for Safe Streets met in November with Karen Rae, who serves as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s deputy transportation secretary, and DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner J. David Sampson to discuss the reforms. The families haven’t heard anything from state officials since then, despite reaching out to Jim Malatras, Cuomo’s director of state operations.

“They promised to get back to us before our hearing, and they knew when the hearing was,” Tam said. “We’re still seeking out another meeting, and we still want to work to correct these wrongs with the DMV.”

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DMV Judge Delays Action Against License of Driver Who Killed Allison Liao

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao speak to reporters after the New York State DMV failed to take action against the driver’s license of the man who killed their daughter Allison. Photo: Brad Aaron

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao speak to reporters after the New York State DMV failed to take action against the driver’s license of the man who killed their daughter Allison. Photos: Brad Aaron

An administrative law judge for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles today deferred a decision concerning the driver’s license of the motorist who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao.

In a packed hearing room at a DMV office in Jamaica, Sidney Fuchs watched video that showed an SUV driven by Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh run over Allison as she and her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, crossed Main Street in Flushing, in a crosswalk with a walk signal. And he heard from police investigators, including the officer who summonsed Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving.

“My entire family has been suffering heartbreaking pain,” said Chin Hua, who stopped several times to compose herself as she described the crash via a translator. “It’s better to revoke the driver’s driver’s license.”

Fuchs twice asked Abu-Zayedeh if he wished to testify on his own behalf and, through his attorney, Abu-Zayedeh twice declined to speak. Fuchs rejected a request from Abu-Zayedeh’s attorney to dismiss the video, which Abu-Zayedeh has refused to watch, on the grounds that the person who gave it to police was not at the hearing to vouch for its authenticity.

Fuchs refused to consider documentation offered by the Liao’s attorney, Steve Vaccaro, that Abu-Zayedeh had alcohol in his system an hour after the crash. According to a civil suit filed by Allison’s family, Abu-Zayedeh told police he had consumed two glasses of wine before the collision. He tested positive for alcohol in his bloodstream, the suit says, but his BAC was below the .08 legal limit for driving. “That would be an issue for some other forum,” said Fuchs. “I prefer not to go into that.”

Fuchs also refused to allow the admission of Abu-Zayedeh’s New Jersey driving record, which Vaccaro said “demonstrates numerous violations,” and indicates that Abu-Zayedeh once surrendered his driver’s license.

“I do have my exhibits and evidence,” said Fuchs at the conclusion of the hour-long hearing. “I’ve heard the testimony. I will reserve decision.”

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With Opening at DMV, Cuomo Has Opportunity to Lead on Street Safety

With the retirement of Barbara Fiala, the top position at the Department of Motor Vehicles is vacant, giving Governor Andrew Cuomo an opportunity to appoint someone who will use the state’s oversight of driver education, training, and licensing to improve street safety and prevent traffic deaths.

Will Governor Cuomo reform the DMV during his second term? Photo: Diana Robinson/Flickr

Will Governor Cuomo reform the DMV during his second term? Photo: Diana Robinson/Flickr

Fiala, 70, is a Democrat who served as Broome County executive before Cuomo tapped her to head the DMV soon after he took office in 2011. Her last day was Tuesday, according to papers state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office provided to Gannett.

Fiala’s tenure at DMV had several low points on the street safety front.

Months after she arrived at the agency in 2011, Fiala proposed eliminating the eye exam as a requirement for renewing a license. The idea was that drivers would instead “self-certify.” That plan was scrapped under public pressure, including from the governor’s office.

Later, Fiala focused on improving online customer service and increasing organ donation rates, according to a profile that was recently removed from the department’s website. The bio also mentions the DMV commissioner’s role as chair of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee, which distributes federal road safety funds across the state.

In October, Fiala was pulled over in Broome County and given a speeding ticket for driving 47 mph in a 30 mph zone. She mailed in the ticket and pleaded not guilty, according to Gannett. Days earlier, her son, Broome County legislator Anthony Fiala Jr., pleaded guilty to drunken driving after hitting and injuring a Binghamton bicyclist before leaving the scene.

The agency was in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons again in November, after a DMV administrative judge dismissed two minor summonses issued to Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha, the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao as she held her grandmother’s hand in a Flushing crosswalk. Video evidence of the crash was not shown at the hearing, which lasted 47 seconds. It’s unclear if the judge even knew that Abu-Zayedeh had killed someone before he threw out the tickets.

After the Liao family learned that Abu-Zayedeha’s tickets had been dismissed, members of Families For Safe Streets met with a top transportation deputy from the governor’s office to talk about DMV reform. The families had expected to meet Fiala at the meeting, but she did not show.

In November, Transportation Alternatives called on Cuomo to replace Fiala with “a safety-minded reformer.” Now that she has retired, Cuomo has a chance to turn the state DMV into a national leader, with rigorous education and licensing requirements for motor vehicle operators to reduce the state’s traffic fatality rate.

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