Last Thursday, the New York City Council passed Intro 238. This legislation makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way. Intro 238 has the potential to dramatically change driver behavior and advance the Vision Zero program of eliminating traffic fatalities. But without enforcement by NYPD and prosecutors, Intro 238 will be no more than an unheeded “message in a bottle.”
What makes Intro 238 potentially so revolutionary? And why should we expect law enforcement to embrace it? To answer those questions, let’s do a quick review of how and why this legislation came to pass.
The need for criminal penalties to deter reckless driving is plain from the story of Ally Liao, told by her parents in City Council testimony this April supporting Intro 238 (videotape here). Allie was crossing hand-in-hand with her grandmother, in the crosswalk with the “Walk” signal, when a driver turned into them and killed her. The driver told police that he had looked for pedestrians in the crosswalk and hadn’t seen any. Police then told the Daily News that Ally had “broken free” from her grandmother, suggesting that the entire incident should be treated as a “tragic accident” befalling a rambunctious and poorly-supervised child.
But the video tells a very different story – one that plays out hundreds of times each year on New York City streets. Ally and her grandmother followed all the rules, but the driver still faced few consequences for killing her.
The city should make it a crime to drive this recklessly. That is the basic idea behind Intro 238, which originated with a proposal first discussed with candidates in StreetsPAC endorsement interviews, then published here on Streetsblog, and then lobbied for by Transportation Alternatives, Families for Safe Streets, and many others.
Following the April hearing, the City Council amended Intro 238 to protect not only pedestrians, but also cyclists. The law will take effect 60 days after it is signed by Mayor de Blasio, who at his January Vision Zero press conference acknowledged that reckless drivers “do not face sufficient consequences.”