NYC Council Member Brad Lander, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and safe streets advocates rallied outside City Hall on Tuesday for legislation that would make city streets safer by getting the most dangerous drivers off the roads.
Council Member Lander introduced the Reckless Driver Accountability last June following the deadly crash at 5th Avenue and 9th Street in Park Slope that killed Abigail Blumenstein and Joshua Lew, and later resulted in the death of Ruthie Ann Miles’ (Abigail’s mother) unborn child. The driver in that incident, Dorothy Bruns, had eight traffic violations within two years, a previously suspended license, and was involved in a hit and run.
The fatal incident occurred after Bruns was repeatedly told by doctors not to drive following a series of medical episodes. Bruns, who had multiple sclerosis, claimed she suffered a seizure at the time of the Park Slope crash in March. She faced up to 15 years in prison for that incident but was found dead at her Staten Island home of an apparent suicide in November.
“It’s been almost one year since Abigail, Joshua, and Sophia were killed by a reckless driver on 9th Street in my district,” Lander said, “and crashes caused by reckless drivers have only continued in the time since this tragedy. Despite the good work we’ve done with Vision Zero, being hit by a vehicle is the main cause of injury-related death for children under 14, and the second most common cause for seniors in New York City.”
“We need a dedicated plan to stop reckless drivers before they kill — which is exactly what my legislation offers,” he continued. “The Reckless Driver Accountability Act takes an innovative, data-driven, and restorative approach that will make NYC a leader in reducing dangerous driving and saving lives. If we want to see significant change, we need to pass the bill.”
The legislation would require a car with five or more red-light and speed camera violations within a year (the 1% most dangerous) to be booted/impounded until the vehicle owner completes a Reckless Driver Accountability Program. The proposed bill would also expand the Driver Accountability Program that is currently available through the Center for Court Innovation in Red Hook and Staten Island. The course is a group intervention program for drivers who are ticketed for traffic offenses.
The top 1% of dangerous drivers in NYC totals to 26,000 individuals who have racked up five violations in the span of a year, Lander pointed out during a press conference last August as Vision Zero safety measures were being installed along 9th Street.
“It’s a small percentage, but 26,000 is a large number of drivers out there…who are driving their cars like weapons aimed at their neighbors, and we are not going to let up on that,” Lander said at the time. “We are going to continue until we have stronger policies to get the most reckless drivers off our streets.”
When drivers amass four camera violations, they will have the opportunity to enroll in the accountability program for a “small fee.” If the drivers opt out of the course and receive a fifth violation, they will have ten days to enroll in a mandatory course or have their car booted or impounded.
“I’m definitely working on speeding and dangerous driving in general – I have to stop that,” said a participant of the Red Hook program. “Not only am I putting myself in danger but other people on the road, that’s for sure. I was aware of what I was doing, it was only a matter of not thinking of the consequences.”
If passed, the new law would also require the City to develop a yearly study on dangerous driving to determine which driving behaviors contribute to traffic crashes, fatalities, and injuries and to make recommendations on how to reduce dangerous driving.
“There are too many drivers on our streets who have time and again broken the law and put others at risk,” said Amy Cohen, founder of Families for Safe Streets. “Clearly there’s more that can and should be done to protect New Yorkers from these chronic offenders. We are pleased to have Council Member Brad Lander in our corner, fighting to make sure the worst drivers are held accountable.” Cohen’s 12-year-old son, Sammy Cohen-Eckstein, was struck and killed by a van on Prospect Park West in 2013.
Last month, Council Member Lander also introduced an online traffic issue tracker in which users can report intersections with traffic-related problems in his District 39 that need safety improvements.
The first month of 2019 saw 19 traffic-related deaths including pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorists across New York City, Streetsblog reported, nearly double from the same time last year.