Mayor Bill de Blasio is calling on state lawmakers to pass legislation designed to reduce traffic fatalities in the city.
De Blasio’s public support for the “Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act” comes after the funeral of NYPD Officer Anastasios Tsakos, who was fatally hit by an alleged drunk driver on the Long Island Expressway last week.
“The laws are still too lenient towards those who take a vehicle and turn it into a de facto weapon,” the mayor said at a press briefing Wednesday morning.
The Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act is a collection of eight bills that, together, would:
- Create a “crash victim bill of rights” similar to the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act, including the right to timely crash reports and to attend crash-related hearings and submit impact statements.
- Repeal a regulation that prevents the city from setting 15mph or lower speed limits on streets where pedestrians and vehicles mix. The bill, known as Sammy’s Law is named after a 12-year-old Brooklynite who was killed by a reckless driver in 2013.
- Lower the BAC limit for driving from .08% to .05%.
- Overturn the “rule of two,” a judicial precedent that requires two reckless acts to convict a driver of criminal negligence.
- Allow the city to operate speed safety cameras 24/7.
- Require the state DOT and DMV to create a pedestrian safety rating system that accounts for the risk a vehicle’s design poses to pedestrians and cyclists.
- Define a “safe distance” of at least three feet for motorists passing cyclists on the road.
- Require instruction in pedestrian and cyclist safety as part of drivers’ pre-licensing courses.
“This is an opportunity to make profound change,” de Blasio said on Wednesday.
Most of the bills are currently sitting in the State Senate and Assembly’s transportation committees, though the “rule of two” (co-sponsored by Brooklyn Senators Zellnor Myrie and Andrew Gounardes) and pre-licensing bills have been approved by the Senate committee and await votes from the wider body.
The future of the package is still uncertain, and many of the bills have relatively few sponsors, but the mayor’s support could nudge them closer to the finish line.
“These bills will save lives by holding reckless drivers accountable, prevent speeding through automated enforcement, teach the next generation of drivers how to share the roadway properly, and much more,” Gounardes, who is sponsoring several of the bills, said in a statement. “I’m glad to see the Mayor endorsing this package of bills and I urge my colleagues to help us pass the CVRSA as soon as possible.”
The Mayor’s call also comes on the heels of a new data analysis from the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives that finds 2021 is on track to be the second-worst year for traffic fatalities during de Blasio’s mayoralty.
This year 70 New Yorkers were killed in traffic incidents through April 30, the most since 2014, when de Blasio first introduced his Vision Zero plan to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2024. The number of fatalities is on track to rise for the third straight year.
Brooklyn accounts for 36 of this year’s fatalities, the highest number for the borough since the start of de Blasio’s first term.
While Transportation Alternatives said it was “very grateful” for de Blasio’s support for state legislation, the group is also calling on the mayor to take action at the city level, by implementing the recommendations of his own Surface Transportation Advisory Council, providing permanent infrastructure for the Open Streets program, and allocating funding for the DOT’s mandate to create a Streets Master Plan.
“Since Mayor de Blasio took office, more than 1,000 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed on his streets,” said Danny Harris, the group’s executive director, “despite the City having both data about where crashes occur and the proven tools to address traffic violence. By withholding these tools, especially to communities most in need, Mayor de Blasio continues to prioritize the convenience of drivers over protecting human life. In his remaining time in office, he must put people, not cars, first on our streets, especially as New York City reopens.”