Squadron Sponsors Crackdown on Careless Driving, and a Reader Gives a Glaring Example

State Senator Daniel Squadron is co-sponsoring, along with Assemblyman Brian Kavanagh, a bill in the state legislature that would increase the power of police to bring charges in cases where it is believed that careless driving has caused injury or death.

The legislators introduced VTL 1146 after the tragic deaths of Hayley Ng, 4, and Diego Martinez, 3, who were killed in 2009 in Chinatown when a delivery van that was left in reverse jumped the curb and hit the children. The law became effective in October 2010 and imposes stiffer penalties on drivers whose failure to exercise due care results in the injury or death of pedestrians or bicyclists. The penalties for the first offense include a $750 fine, 15 days of jail time, participation in a driver safety course, suspension or revocation of the driver’s license or registration, or any combination of these penalties, and a misdemeanor charge on a second offense.

However, police officers in some jurisdictions believe that the law does not permit them to issue a VTL 1146 violation unless they personally witness the accident. This drastically limits the ability of an officer to issue a violation in accidents that are clearly the result of careless driving. The new Squadron-Kavanagh legislation – S6416 / A9219 – makes the authority to enforce the law explicit, even if the officer was not present at the time of the crash, as long as the officer has reasonable cause to believe the violation was committed by the driver.

Meanwhile, reader “Boop” has given us (see this week’s OTW) a harrowing description of careless driving in our own neighborhood, in which, thanks to her quick response, tragedy was narrowly averted. Tuesday morning, she tells us, she was at the intersection of Pineapple and Henry when a woman driving a grey Audi Q7, who was looking down (texting?) and not at the road as she crossed the intersection, nearly struck a blind man whom Boop, who is in the late stages of pregnancy, was able to pull out of the way. Gothamist also has a piece on this issue.

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  • David on Middagh

    If everyone drove stick shift, do you think they would be more attentive? What if the streets fell into greater disrepair, became a minefield of potholes?

    I think driving is too easy. That’s why people eat, text, make phone calls…

  • It Is What It Ain’t

    $750.00 fine is a crackdown for killing someone with a vehicle? Laughable. How about more vehicular homicide charges. Police routinely side with drivers when they mow bikers and pedestrians down. Investigations are a joke. I recall appearing on the scene at Montague St. and Clinton moments after a private garbage truck driver had mowed down an elderly woman. The image of her body laid out, and the likelihood these thugs were probably speeding on our streets still haunts me. Thoughts?

  • resident

    Thoughts? I think this country’s desire for blood every time an accident or tragedy occurs is disturbing. I know it sells and that’s why politicians push “hard on crime” stances, but I don’t think it helps society at large.

    Should people be punished by more than requiring them to pay a $750 fine if they are reckless? Yes. But to me that means climbing behind a wheel when drunk, disregarding speed limits, especially in school zones, drag racing, and the like. And we have laws to address such instances.

    If a failure to exercise due care means being distracted by looking at a map/gps, answering your phone, changing radio stations, conversing with a passenger, trying to control your kids in the back seat, just generally zoning out, etc., then I think these punishments are satisfactory if not a bit harsh.

    We live in a world where pedestrians, cyclists, and automobiles all coexist. Accidents happen and are usually caused by a failure by one party to exercise due care. Unfortunately, this will continue regardless of penalties. It’s a fact of life. Nobody driving a car operates it with 100% attention at all times. Anyone that says they do is lying. To throw everyone in jail who’s lapse in judgment/concentration results in death isn’t going to prevent such accidents, and it’s not a good policy (unless you own stock in one of the private prison corporations).

  • epc

    It isn’t an accident when a driver speeds through a red light and kills a pedestrian, cyclist, or another driver. The gas pedal did not magically depress itself.

    It isn’t an accident when a driver kills a pedestrian, cyclist or another driver because she was focussed on her Blackberry or iPhone instead of the street.

    It isn’t an accident when a driver kills a pedestrian, cyclist or another driver after deciding to drive after drinking multiple drinks.

    I believe that yes, if you have a “lapse in judgement” that results in the death of another then yes, you should be tried for at minimum manslaughter, and if there is any demonstration of intent to focus on something other than driving, homicide with prison. You should have your license suspended until the incident is fully investigated. You should lose your license, permanently, if found guilty of manslaughter or homicide.

    Might that make drivers drive more cautiously? Who knows. But in a society which throws kids in jail for 10-15 years for possession of a few grams of illegal drugs, allowing drivers who kill others through their “accidents” to continue driving is shameful.

  • resident

    So, epc, you’re perfect? You’ve never “not seen” a red light? You’ve never had your head turned for just a second and swerved a little bit? You’ve never glanced down at your radio, or been engaged in a conversation and not noticed breaklights in front of you? Never been caught in the wrong lane and realized your mistake, cutting someone off to get over? Hope you never screw up like that and someone dies, if so, you’ll be taking yourself right to prison, I presume?

    Obviously there has to be nuance involved. But there’s an inherent risk in living in society, especially a densely packed metropolis. To imprison someone on the rare occasion that this non-perfect driving technique results in death is asinine, in my opinion. It’s literally impossible to be a perfect driver all the time. There are ways to make people better, but extreme penalties on the very rare occasion that improper driving results in death is not the proper approach. Prison sentences won’t decrease the problem, and the inequitable penalties for the action, entirely based on end result, is improper.

    And your non sequitur on the atrocious drug war penalties in this country is ridiculous. I could make an equally appalling parallel by saying that doctors that prescribe medicine that has an increased risk of suicide, if ever so slight, should go to prison if one of their patients happens to kill himself.

  • David on Middagh

    “It’s literally impossible to be a perfect driver all the time.”

    Literally, this is true. When one is reading while driving, it is impossible to be a perfect driver.

  • GHB

    @resident, I’ve never run through a red light, and I’ve been driving over 30 years. Driving requires your undivided attention. Yes, I’ve been engaged in conversation, changed stations while driving, but I’m always looking ahead or in the mirrors. If you can’t commit to that, you have no business being behind the wheel!

  • epc

    Nope, not perfect, but if I ever am involved in a collision in which one of the other (driver, passenger, pedestrian, cyclist) is killed I fully expect to be held accountable for their death, and I try to drive as if I’m mindful of that.

    Now, I’ve been hit by a bus (mirror), a car (“luckily” slowing down for a stop light which he “accidentally missed”) and a couple of cyclists. I’ve been in a couple of collisions myself (the closest one to an “accident” was black ice on a road in which everyone, including myself, was driving too fast for conditions).

    I take issue with the convenient use of the word “accident” — you’re driving a car. You’re licensed. If you’re under 30 or so in the US you’ve had to go through a much more rigorous licensing regime than I did.

    If you’re going too fast to stop in time for the red light, then you’re going too fast. If you miss the light because you’re not paying attention to traffic, then, duh, you’re not paying attention to traffic.

    In these scenarios should you always get a ticket? I have no idea.

    But if you kill someone with your speeding, your inattention, then yes, I truly believe you should at least have your license suspended and a court get a chance to review the facts and conditions and judge you. Too often these deaths get written off as an “accident” due to the cyclist swerving (according to the driver) or the pedestrian stepping off the curb before the light changed (according to the driver).

    At a minimum, bare minimum, I wish the Police and DAs would take the keys away from drivers who’ve “lost control” and plowed into a sidewalk, or who say “he came out of nowhere, I didn’t see him”, because these people are ADMITTING they weren’t in control and weren’t paying attention.

    I feel for the NYPD here, too often when they do do the “right thing” the case gets thrown out because, surprisingly, the officer didn’t witness the “accident”, and it appears that moves are afoot to change that in NYS law.

    Net: when you kill someone with your car you’ve committed a crime. Maybe it’s not a penal law (yet), but you’ve done wrong against another person and against society. And worse you’ve tied up traffic for the thousand other cars behind you. The victim deserves justice through the criminal courts. Too often the only “justice” the victim gets is through the estate suing in civil court, which is financially hampered because the lack of a criminal proceeding reduces both the financial penalty as well as the likelihood of victory for the estate of the victim.

  • my2cents

    It’s way too easy to pass the driver’s exam in this country, and particularly in this city. Brooklyn drivers are among the worst I have ever encountered. In skill, awareness, courtesy, and basic obeyance of the law, Brooklyn drivers are pretty much the bottom rung of society. I am continually shocked at how many lights I have seen run since moving here.

  • stuart

    New Yorkers are at their worst when discussing other people’s need to get from one place to the next. It is as if all the repressed anger of living in such a crowded metropolis comes out at the reckless egoists who dare to think they can possess private transportation in the people’s republic.
    But the truth is that almost everyone with two quarters to rub together has a car in Brooklyn. If you have a space-sensory deficit issue and can’t drive, or are too poor or cheap to buy and garage a car, fine. But for the rest of us, we love our cars more than you can ever know. So shut up!

  • David on Middagh

    “So shut up!”

    Help! Help! I’m being run over by an out-of-control commenter!

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    To paraphrase the punchline of an old Vermont joke: “Had a cah once. Got rid of it.”

  • Quinn Raymond

    This legislation is a good start.

  • JohnG

    Not very long ago Senator Squadron in his newsletter was outraged at car rental companies for charging Brooklyn drivers higher rates for insurance. It now seems that Mr. Squadron has recognized the real problem. Good for you, Senator.

  • Hicks-ter

    My friend Sarah, who knows several people killed by drivers in the recent past, has a sobering perspective on The Atlantic’s Cities blog: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/02/we-need-broken-windows-traffic-crimes/1264/

  • epc

    Related in Gothamist today: “How An Unlicensed Driver Got Away With Killing A Brooklyn Woman” http://gothamist.com/2012/02/17/clara_heyworth.php

    Perhaps we should start arming pedestrians.

  • my2cents

    Stuart, I have a car, and also write a car blog. My critique of Brooklyn drivers is from a driver’s perspective. Maybe now you can shut up.

  • WillowtownCop

    Jail is not the solution to every problem. We have civil courts to address negligence.

    I wish you could see the records of people who get arrested for gun point muggings who are out of jail. You need to do quite a few of them before you might do a year. They can pass all the laws they want but it will be a cold day in hell before any judge in NY sends someone to jail for running a red light.

  • Ex-Heightster


    Your remarks are ridiculous. Accidents do in fact occur, they are indeed ACCIDENTS, and giving the ever-increasing police state we live increased powers to prosecute accidents is ludicrous.

  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    Ex-Heightster: while I don’t dispute your assertion that “[a]ccidents do in fact occur” (and I suspect that epc doesn’t either), I’m curious to know what you would consider an “accident”.

  • WillowtownCop

    An accident is something that doesn’t rise to the level of criminal mental culpability. It isn’t something blameless – someone can still definitely be at fault. There’s intent and recklessness (purposely disregarding a risk) which our legal system punishes as different degrees of crimes. Negligence (failing to perceive a risk that you should have) is corrected in civil court. If we start jailing bad drivers, what about people who don’t trim their trees and a branch falls, or people who don’t shovel snow off their sidewalks?

  • epc

    To be clear: I’m not saying jail everyone who runs a red light or blows a stop sign. I’m saying that if you kill someone (while distracted/running a red/blowing a stop sign/blowing some coke/tweeting/whatever) then you should get the opportunity to visit the criminal system. Chances are you’ll get off. But right now the easiest way to kill someone in NYC is to hit them with a car. I’m surprised this hasn’t become a new service offering from criminal organizations, much easier than making cement boots.

    Right now it feels like it’s open season on pedestrians in NYC.

  • Ex-Heightster

    Mr. Scales,

    What you, I, and some malicious prosecutor or cop consider to be an accident may vary greatly, and that’s part of my point.

    I don’t want to be thrust into our highly-dysfunctional criminal justice system because I did something accidentally. Do you?

    Kudos to WillowtownCop for the thoughtful, rational response.

  • Ex-Heightster
  • http://selfabsorbedboomer.blogspot.com Claude Scales

    It’s been a long time since I was in a criminal law class, and I haven’t been in criminal court (except for voir dire, from which I was excused because I said I believed marijuana should be legalized) for about thirty years, but I do recall a notion of “depraved indifference to human life.” I think that driving at excessive speed, or while texting or otherwise allowing oneself to be distracted, in a crowded residential neighborhood meets that definition.