Thousands of pedestrians and cyclists are being killed or injured by automobiles in New York City every year. However, according to CBS local news, they rarely face serious consequences.
Careless driving no doubt leads to accidents and when you are driving in NYC—where people are walking and biking constantly—no one is immune from the devastation.
Even if the drivers admit fault, they are not always charged with a criminal or VTL violation. Heather Vanderbergh’s daughter, Elle, was almost killed just 3 years ago by a driver speeding in reverse. That driver was never punished.
Ms. Vanderbergh told reporters, “I was just so devastated by that—by the fact that my daughter was almost dead and this man is not only roaming free, but driving, still—and he could hurt anyone.”
At the time of the accident, Ms. Vanderbergh helped get the law changed requiring police officers to crack down on careless driving. Nevertheless, three years later, the crackdown is simply not being enforced due to a technical problem.
Although the law added tough penalties for careless driving, an officer must personally witness the violation in order to issue a ticket in New York City. Otherwise, the charge will easily get dismissed in court.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly noted, “Courts have said officers, if they don’t observe the violation, they cannot issue the summons.”
Steve Vaccaro, who represents injured pedestrians, believes that this is an impossible standard. He said, “Unless the most unusual of coincidences occurs and an officer happens to be looking right at you the moment you kill or injure someone, there’s no serious consequences.”
There has been a groundswell of backlash against this and a major push has been made to change the law once again in order to make it easier to write careless driving tickets. Under the proposed law, officers would not have to see the careless driving take place. Instead, they would only need “reliable evidence” that it occurred.
New York State Senator Dan Squadron revealed, “The bottom line is when careless driving leads to serious injury or death, we have to do something about it.”
Nonetheless, Casey Raskob of the National Motorist Association says that even with the amended law, careless driving tickets could still be dismissed. According to Mr. Raskob, the new law would simply amount to changing the burden of proof.
He explained, “I don’t think any of us want to be subject to the rantings of someone on the corner, or some person on the corner saw this happen … I don’t believe that is an adequate standard in a court of law.”
Regardless, Ms. Vanderbergh believes there has to be a way for careless drivers—just like with those who drive drunk—to be held responsible. “If you’re drunk, you will go to jail, and if you’re sober, nothing will happen to you,” she said, “and that’s a travesty.”
Currently, the proposed bill that would change the law is under consideration in the New York legislature.