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De Blasio Wants Albany to Make Careless Driving a Crime [Updated]

NYPD currently issues careless driving summonses to fewer than 1 percent of motorists who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists. Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data via Transportation Alternatives.

As part of his Vision Zero agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants Albany to elevate careless driving to a criminal offense, increasing penalties while making it easier for police to hold reckless motorists accountable.

Enacted in 2010, Hayley and Diego’s Law was intended as a default infraction for crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. But under Ray Kelly, NYPD normally applied the law only in cases of very serious injury or death, seemingly in place of criminal charges. Department protocol prohibits precinct cops from issuing careless driving citations unless an officer witnesses a violation or the crash is investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad. As a result, fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Department brass told the City Council two years ago that the current policy came after summonses were dismissed in court because officers weren’t witnessing violations, though NYPD didn’t say how many cases were thrown out. State lawmakers have so far failed to pass an amendment that would allow beat cops to write careless driving summonses, and de Blasio wants to take a somewhat different approach.

From the Vision Zero blueprint, released Tuesday:

The City supports amendments to the Hayley and Diego law to make this violation a misdemeanor, increasing the penalties associated with carelessly harming a pedestrian or bicyclist. By making this a crime rather than a traffic infraction, the law would explicitly allow a police officer to issue a summons to a person who failed to exercise due care and seriously injured or killed a pedestrian or bicyclist, based on probable cause, even if the officer was not present to witness the crash.

The city also wants to extend vulnerable user status to highway workers.

Right now, drivers summonsed for careless driving are subject to a mandatory drivers’ ed course, fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months. A de Blasio spokesperson told Streetsblog it’s not clear yet what class of misdemeanor the city will aim for, but the lowest level, an unclassified misdemeanor, would put careless driving on par with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation and first-offense DWI.

Perhaps more important, classifying careless driving as a crime would theoretically lift the NYPD’s self-imposed ban on enforcing the law.

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NYC Speed Cams Only Nabbing a Fraction of Speeders

After two weeks, it’s clear that NYC’s new automated speed camera program needs much more leeway from Albany in order to wrestle the city’s dangerous speeding problem under control.

Pedestrian survival rates plummet as vehicle impact speeds approach 40 mph, but under the restrictions imposed by Albany, NYC’s speed cameras don’t even ticket anyone for traveling less than 10 mph over the 30 mph limit.

Under the law that state legislators passed to enable the program, speed cameras are currently operable only from one hour before the school day begins to one hour after school activities end. A driver can go up to 10 mph over the speed limit without getting a ticket. The camera-enforced penalty is $50, with no license points attached, regardless of how fast an offending motorist drives.

In their first 15 days of operation, DOT cameras ticketed 900 drivers for traveling at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in school zones. With six of 20 cameras reportedly activated, that breaks down to eight tickets per camera per day, rounding up. While we don’t know where the cameras are located, that’s almost certainly a much lower figure than the number of motorists who are actually speeding. A 2009 Transportation Alternatives study, for instance, clocked 39 percent of city motorists at select locations exceeding the 30 mph speed limit.

It’s helpful to compare the number of speed camera tickets to the city’s red light camera program. In 1994, the early days of automated red light enforcement in NYC, cameras ticketed around 80 drivers per day [PDF, page 42]. That’s 10 times as many tickets as the speed cameras are issuing, even though it stands to reason that speeding is more prevalent than red light running. (Have you ever seen 39 percent of the drivers who pass through a signalized intersection run a red?)

Clearly, even at the speed camera locations, most people who speed aren’t getting tickets. Given the way Albany hamstrung the program, this isn’t much of a surprise. The 10 mph buffer is too big, and the time limitations are too strict.

If speed cameras are going to bring down traffic injuries and deaths significantly, NYC not only needs more cameras, but more freedom to use the cameras we do have to deter dangerous driving.

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Martin Dilan Introduces 20 MPH Bill in State Senate

Supporters of home rule legislation for NYC speed limits at Grand Army Plaza Sunday. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

Supporters of home rule legislation for NYC speed limits rallied at Grand Army Plaza Sunday. Photo: Dmitry Gudkov

State Senator Martin Malave Dilan, of Brooklyn, has introduced companion legislation to Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell’s speed limit bill, which would set the maximum speed on NYC streets at 20 miles per hour, except on streets ”where the City Council determines a different speed limit is appropriate.”

“In the first two weeks of 2014 there were seven pedestrian fatalities, two in the same day,” reads a statement on Dilan’s web site. “While Mayor de Blasio’s ramped-up enforcement has made an impact, the city requires additional tools to realistically address these fatalities.”

Dilan chairs the Senate transportation committee. At this writing the speed limit bill has no Senate cosponsors, and could face an uphill climb. When O’Donnell introduced the Assembly version in January, Senator Marty Golden called it an “overreaction” to pedestrian deaths.

A pedestrian hit by a vehicle moving at 20 mph has a 95 percent chance of surviving. For a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph, the current city speed limit, the survival rate drops to 55 percent. Research cited by the 20′s Plenty For Us campaign shows that lower speed limits reduce collisions overall.

In their first two weeks of operation, DOT speed cameras issued 900 tickets in school zones. The cameras are operational only during school hours, and only ticket drivers who are traveling at least 10 mph over the speed limit.

At least 12 children age 14 and under were killed by New York City motorists since January 2013, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. Traffic crashes consistently rank as the leading cause of injury-related death for children in NYC. Research shows that children under the age of 10 can’t hear oncoming vehicles as well as older kids and adults.

Yesterday, over 100 people gathered on Prospect Park West in support of the speed limit bills, at a rally organized by Right of Way. “This is a crucial step in Mayor de Blasio’s push toward Vision Zero,” said Right of Way’s Keegan Stephan in a written statement. Stephan said yesterday’s event was held with just two days’ notice.

As we reported in January, the proposed state legislation is stronger than similar bills introduced in the City Council last year, and would supersede equivalent city laws.

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Does Marty Golden Really Need Convincing That Lower Speeds Save Lives?

The Daily News didn’t need to send anyone to stand in traffic for man-on-the-street reaction quotes on Dan O’Donnell’s bill to lower the speed limit in NYC to 20 miles per hour.

Instead, all they had to do was call up Marty Golden.

With 12 children age 14 and under killed by NYC motorists in the last 12 months, Marty Golden believes lowering the speed limit is an "overreaction."

With 12 children age 14 and under killed by NYC motorists in the last 12 months, Marty Golden believes lowering the speed limit is an “overreaction.”

[Golden] called O’Donnell’s bill an “overreaction” and warned the lower speed limit would snarl traffic throughout the city.

“Traffic would go nowhere,” Golden said. “It would be a disaster and it is not going to eliminate the unlicensed driver who shouldn’t be driving or the driver who’s on drugs or alcohol.”

Golden said a better approach would be to stiffen penalties for aggressive drivers — to “get these morons off the road” — and to better mark off school zones.

Let us count the straw men. Would traffic come to a standstill if speed limits were lowered to 20 miles per hour? No. Where traffic is gridlocked, it already moves much slower than that. What this bill will do is encourage many people to drive at less lethal speeds on streets where they currently open up the throttle.

Slowing down speeding drivers has nothing to do with catching drunk or unlicensed drivers. It is ridiculous to say that since lowering the speed limit would not solve all traffic-related issues it isn’t worth doing.

Albany should certainly stiffen penalties for aggressive drivers. But again, that is a completely separate issue from slowing traffic in general. A pedestrian hit by a vehicle moving at 20 mph has a 95 percent chance of living through the collision. For a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling at 30 mph, the current city speed limit, the chance of survival drops to 55 percent. Further, drivers traveling at 20 mph can more easily avoid collisions in the first place. Research cited by the 20′s Plenty For Us campaign shows that lower speed limits reduce collisions overall.

Safe Routes to School is a successful program, but slowing drivers citywide would make kids safer than adding paint and signage near schools, or whatever it is Golden is suggesting.

Golden has a mixed record on safe streets legislation. He sponsored bills to toughen penalties for drivers who leave crash scenes, and to require mirrors on large trucks that let drivers see kids who are in front of them. He was a holdout on allowing speed cameras in NYC, but eventually came around.

It’s unclear where his opposition to O’Donnell’s bill is coming from, but if Golden is interested in saving the lives of children, he will get behind the effort to lower the maximum legal speed in NYC.

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Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell Intros Bill to Set NYC Speed Limit at 20 MPH

Assembly Member Dan O’Donnell has introduced a bill to lower the speed limit in New York City to 20 miles per hour.

O’Donnell represents the Upper West Side, where two pedestrians have been killed by motorists in 2014. He attended the vigil held last night for Cooper Stock and Alexander Shear.

O’Donnell’s office released a statement this afternoon:

Last week, two tragedies in my district emphasized for me the overwhelming need to change traffic laws and prevent traffic fatalities in New York City. Already this year, in just over two weeks, there have been seven pedestrian deaths due to traffic accidents, including the death of a child. That horrific fact is why today I introduced A8478, which changes the New York City administrative code to set the city’s official speed limit at 20 miles per hour except where the City Council determines a different speed limit is appropriate. Studies have shown that pedestrians hit at speeds of 20 and lower have a dramatically higher chance of surviving an accident than those hit at speeds of 30 and above. I hope my bill will change the devastating rate of traffic deaths in the city, and contribute to Mayor de Blasio’s “Vision Zero” plan to prevent unsafe driving and end traffic fatalities.

As of now the bill doesn’t have cosponsors or a companion bill in the Senate, according to the Assembly web site.

O’Donnell’s bill is currently stronger than the similar bills introduced in the City Council last year, and as state legislation it would supersede equivalent city legislation. We’ll have more on the speed limit bill in future posts.

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As Deadline Approaches, Will Cuomo Sign or Veto Transit Lockbox Bill?

This afternoon, a coalition of more than 200 groups sent a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo [PDF] asking him to sign the transit lockbox bill, which would help safeguard dedicated transit funds by requiring the state to disclose the impact of any raids on transit agency budgets. The pressure is on: The governor has until the middle of next week to sign or veto the legislation.

Time is running out for Andrew Cuomo to stand for transparency and against transit raids. Photo: saebaryo/Flickr

The clock is ticking because although the bill unanimously passed both the Senate and Assembly in June, it was only officially called up to Cuomo’s desk on Friday, starting a review period that gives the governor until next Wednesday to make a decision.

In 2011, a similar bill that covered only the MTA passed the legislature but was gutted at the governor’s request during a special session late in the year. Advocates are hopeful that the new bill, which covers all transit agencies statewide, will benefit from a renewed public focus on transit investment after Hurricane Sandy — as well as broad support in both the legislature and among transit, business, labor, environmental, social justice, and good government organizations.

“We expect either a veto or a signature,” Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Nadine Lemmon said. ”As far as I know, he only has those two options.”

While only a constitutional amendment can expressly prohibit budget raids, the lockbox bill would add a measure of transparency so that the governor and legislature would have to say exactly what will happen to transit service as a result of their budget maneuvers. With the full costs known up front, advocates hope transit raids would become less common.

“I’ve had legislators say to me, ‘If I knew this bus line was going to be cut, I would’ve never voted for it,’” Lemmon said. “It’s like voting for stuff with a blindfold on.”

Lemmon credited labor groups for building strong support for the lockbox bill in the legislature and the New York City Council, and hoped that the business effects would get the governor’s attention. The coalition today specifically cited Kawasaki, Bombardier, Alstom, and Nova Bus manufacturing operations in New York state, which depend in large part on orders from transit agencies across the state.

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NYPD Charges 0.7 Percent of Drivers Who Injure and Kill With Careless Driving

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

Three years after Albany established the offense of careless driving, NYPD continues to apply the law in only a tiny fraction of crashes that result in the death or injury of pedestrians and cyclists.

There were 152 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the city in 2012, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and 14,327 injuries. Of those 14,479 crashes, DMV data show NYPD cited 101 motorists for careless driving. That’s a citation rate of less than 1 percent.

It’s also the most careless driving citations issued by NYPD in a single year since Hayley and Diego’s Law took effect in 2010, when police wrote 99 summonses. In 2011, the first full year NYPD had the new law as part of its traffic enforcement toolkit, it was applied just 87 times.

The careless driving statute, part of Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1146, is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, toddlers who were killed in 2009 when a van, left unattended and idling, rolled onto a sidewalk in Chinatown. The driver was not charged by NYPD, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, or his successor Cy Vance.

Careless driving was intended as a minimum penalty to hold drivers who injure and kill accountable, in lieu of a more serious criminal charge. Under the law, drivers who injure pedestrians or cyclists while failing to exercise due care are subject to mandatory drivers’ ed, and could be sentenced to fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months.

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

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All State Senators From NYC, Plus Skelos, Voted for Speed Cameras

You can thank Marty Golden for speed cameras now.

Marty Golden, who expressed skepticism of speed cameras, voted with the majority of senators to approve them for NYC.

The State Senate passed NYC’s first speed camera demonstration program by a margin of 56-7, with the entire city delegation voting in favor. Senate Republican Co-Leader Dean Skelos was also among the “aye” votes.

Sources say Skelos was opposed to speed cameras pretty late in the game and had to be won over by Golden, the city’s Republican leader in the Senate, whose imprimatur was essential in getting the program approved.

Skelos’s Democratic counterpart Jeff Klein took up the cause earlier in the session, while long-time champion Deborah Glick shepherded the measure in the Assembly, where it passed 120-20.

The city will be allowed to deploy 20 cameras near schools throughout NYC, operable from one hour before the school day begins to one hour after it ends. A driver can go up to 10 mph over the speed limit without getting a ticket, and camera-enforced penalties will be limited to $50, regardless of how fast an offending motorist drives, with no license points attached. The legislature has attached a five-year sunset clause to the program.

Nevertheless, advocates hailed the program as a proverbial foot in the door. Speed cameras are proven to reduce traffic injuries and deaths, and DOT intends to maximize the impact of what, initially at least, will be a handful of cameras.

“The cameras are mobile so we’ll be able to move them around and address high-speed locations that may change over time,” said DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan in June. “Any school where there’s excessive speeding will be fair game.”

The Senate roll call hasn’t posted online yet, so in case you’re wondering, the “nay” votes were: Greg Ball (R-Patterson), John Bonacic (R-Mount Hope), John DeFrancisco (R-Syracuse), Joseph Griffo (R-Rome), Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Michael Ranzenhofer (R-Amherst), and Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

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Albany Lawmakers Fail to Advance Bills on Careless Driving, Select Bus Lights

Proponents of safer streets and a stronger MTA fared better than usual in Albany this year, securing speed cameras for NYC and scoring a tentative win on the transit lockbox — which now depends on Governor Cuomo’s signature to protect straphangers from budget raids by state lawmakers, including himself. However, legislators failed to pass bills that would have restored speedier bus service to NYC and helped protect New Yorkers from motorists who injure and kill.

NYPD refuses to enforce the law named after Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng, who were killed by a careless driver in 2009. A bill to close a loophole in the law passed the State Senate, but stalled in the Assembly for the second consecutive year.

A bill to bring an end to NYPD’s self-imposed ban on penalizing motorists for careless driving cleared the State Senate, but for the second year did not make it out of committee in the Assembly.

The bill would amend Hayley and Diego’s Law by explicitly stating that officers may ticket or arrest drivers who harm pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable street users whether or not they directly observe an infraction, as long as officers have reasonable cause to believe a violation was committed. 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.

Hayley and Diego’s Law went into effect in 2010. It established the offense of careless driving, and imposed penalties, including the possibility of license sanctions and jail time, upon drivers who injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists. The bill and its amendment were introduced by Senator Dan Squadron and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh. It is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, two toddlers who were killed in 2009 by a driver whose unattended and idling van jumped a curb in Chinatown. The driver was not charged with a crime by Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau or his successor Cy Vance.

Neither house acted on this crucial piece of legislation in 2012. This year it died in the Assembly transportation committee.

Legislators in the Senate and the Assembly failed to advance a bill to bring back the lights to Select Bus Service buses. Flashing blue SBS lights were used without incident for over four years until the MTA brought SBS service to Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard. The lights were switched off after City Council Member Vincent Ignizio and State Senator Andrew Lanza complained that motorists were confusing SBS buses with emergency vehicles.

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NYC Aims to Make the Most of Its Handful of School-Zone Speed Cameras

Details concerning New York City’s first-ever speed camera program are scarce. To slow down as many speeding drivers as possible with the small number of cameras permitted by Albany, this is as it should be.

Walk to School Day in Harlem in 2011. Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

On Tuesday, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan joined Mayor Bloomberg at P.S. 81 in Riverdale, where 96 percent of motorists observed for a DOT school area survey were speeding. While a camera or cameras will presumably be deployed to slow drivers around P.S. 81, it’s one of 100 schools around which 75 percent or more of drivers speed [PDF]. To cover even a fraction of NYC school zones with a relative handful of cameras, flexibility is key.

Here’s Sadik-Khan, as quoted by WNYC and the Daily News: “The cameras are mobile so we’ll be able to move them around and address high-speed locations that may change over time. Any school where there’s excessive speeding will be fair game. One of the deterrents is that people don’t necessarily know where they are.”

The bill passed by the State Legislature limits NYC to the use of 20 cameras at a time. Cameras will be operable only from one hour before the school day begins to one hour after it ends, and from 30 minutes before to 30 minutes after school activities. A driver can go up to 10 mph over the speed limit without getting a ticket, and camera-enforced penalties will be capped at $50 — billed to the vehicle owner — regardless of how fast an offending motorist drives. No license points or insurance penalties will be attached. The legislature placed a five-year sunset clause on the program.

DOT told us that, since the system will be handled by a vendor, operational details have yet to be worked out. But a look at other mobile speed camera programs sheds some light on how they might work in NYC. Mobile speed cameras are often mounted in SUVs or other vehicles, and localities might or might not disclose where they are, or where they might be. Washington, DC, uses a combination of mobile and fixed cameras. The MPD posts a list of six dozen “enforcement zones,” most identified by block number, where cameras may be at any given time.

The Albany speed camera bill says NYC “may” install signage to notify motorists that cameras are in use, and warning motorists that they are about to enter a monitored school zone. So it could be that motorists know only that cameras will be used near schools.

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