A bill that makes it easier to punish drivers who cause injurious or deadly accidents was passed by the State Senate today, just two days before our humble civic reps go on Sprayng Brayke.
The bill, sponsored by State Senator Daniel Squadron of the 26th District (aka the LES, parts of East Village, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint), effectively updates Hayley and Diego’s Law. The De Blasio administration had said the law, named after two children who were killed in Chinatown by a driver back in 2010, needed to be improved in order to realize its goal of “strengthen[ing] penalties and sanctions for dangerous driving.”
According to De Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative: “Since its passage, [Hayley and Diego’s Law] has not been used as much as elected officials had hoped, partly because, for a traffic infraction, public policy generally requires police officers to be present to witness a crash in order to use the provisions of the law, unless they possess special expertise in crash investigation.”
Statistics demonstrate that Hayley and Diego’s Law has been largely ineffective in New York City. According to Streets Blog, the NYPD enacted Hayley and Diego’s Law in just 0.7 percent of cases where reckless drivers injured or killed a cyclist or pedestrian.
According to the State Senate’s website, the bill “authorizes police officers to arrest a driver of a motor vehicle in certain circumstances without a warrant.” These particular situations include accidents where drivers have injured or seriously injured a pedestrian or bicyclist due to “failure to exercise due care” in driving a car– meaning they have to try and avoid hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist and utilize their horn if necessary.
The amendment passed today “allows police officers to issue a [violation] even if the accident did not take place in the presence of the police officer” as long as cops have “reasonable cause to believe that the violation was committed by such person.” Reasonable cause, by the way, is kind of a wacky legal term and constitutes a lower standard than our good friend “probable cause.”
Though Squadron’s legislation updates the law to include construction workers, something De Blasio pushed for, it apparently leaves one important weakness in the law. De Blasio’s policy initiative called for Hayley and Diego’s Law to allow for careless drivers who injure cyclists and pedestrians to be charged as criminals under probable cause. However, the amendment passed today in Albany still classifies the violation only as a traffic infraction. Fines range from “not more than $500” to “not more than $1,000,” and offenders can be thrown in jail for up to 15 days.
Should the bill make it through the State Assembly, it will bolster one of Bill de Blasio’s major mayoral campaign themes, i.e. the improvement of road safety in the city. In January, the mayor’s office organized a multi-agency task force and articulated a series of policies, dubbed “Vision Zero,” aimed at eliminating what de Blasio called an “epidemic” of traffic-related fatalities. The program is based on the de Blasio administration’s position that “death and injury on city streets is not acceptable.”
Another essential element of Vision Zero (enacting of laws at the state level that allow for the city to lower speed limits) also appears to be on the verge of collapse. Gothamist reported today that the proposed speed limit bill has been seriously weakened in the legislature. We’ll know by Thursday, the last day the Senate meets, if it passes.