It was a welcome development when NYPD filed the first-ever charges under Section 19-190, a new law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. The law was intended to enable precinct officers to impose consequences for reckless driving, but so far, NYPD doesn’t appear to be using it this way.
Section 19-190 applies a ”strict liability” standard to traffic crashes — that is, a driver who strikes a pedestrian or cyclist when the victim has the right of way is presumed to have committed a misdemeanor, unless the driver can show he was not at fault.
For years, only CIS personnel were authorized by NYPD to file charges against motorists for causing injury and death, unless an officer witnessed a crash. But by making such collisions crimes, and therefore empowering rank-and-file officers to file charges, Section 19-190 was meant to put an end to NYPD’s “observed violation rule.” Theoretically, if a precinct cop determines that a driver hit a pedestrian who was crossing with a walk signal, that officer should now be able to make an arrest on the spot.
More than a month after the law took effect, however, there is no evidence that NYPD is applying the law as intended. Motorists have killed at least 12 pedestrians and injured countless others in the last five weeks. The only confirmed instance where NYPD filed charges under Section 19-190 involved a weeks-long CIS investigation. Streetsblog has a request pending with NYPD about how many times police have applied the law, and if precinct officers are enforcing it.
Attorney Steve Vaccaro pointed to potential obstacles to enforcement before Section 19-190 was adopted:
Unless Intro 238 is communicated repeatedly to rank and file police officers via memorandum, roll call instructions, and formal in-service trainings, most police officers will not even become aware of the new law. And awareness is just the starting point. Intro 238 runs counter to the general belief held by many officers that a traffic crash is by definition a non-criminal matter, peripheral at best to the core police mission of fighting crime.
There are thousands of serious crashes a year in NYC, and CIS investigates only a few hundred. Section 19-190 is supposed to give police the latitude they need to deter traffic violence by bringing charges against dangerous drivers who would otherwise go unpenalized for harming people. If Mayor de Blasio expects drivers to get the message, he’s got to get NYPD on board first.