Lander, City Council colleagues, and safe streets advocates announce “Reckless Driver Accountability Act” to make NYC a national leader in combating dangerous driving
New York, NY — NYC Council Member Brad Lander was joined today by City Council colleagues, traffic safety advocates, and families who have lost loved ones to traffic violence to announce new legislation to hold reckless drivers accountable, reduce dangerous driving, and save lives in NYC.
The “Reckless Driver Accountability Act” includes the following measures:
- Boot or impound cars that accumulate five or more red-light and speed camera violations within one year (the top 1% most dangerous), until their owners complete a Reckless Driver Accountability Program.
- Expand the Driver Accountability Program (currently offered in Red Hook and on Staten Island) as an alternative for drivers who are ticketed for driving offenses.
- Require the City to produce an annual study on dangerous driving to determine which driving behaviors are associated with traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities, and to make recommendations for reducing dangerous driving.
The legislation follows the March 5th tragedy in which reckless driver Dorothy Bruns, who had accumulated five camera violations in 2017, killed two children (and injured one of their pregnant moms, who lost her baby a few weeks later) at a Park Slope intersection.
“We can’t bring Abigail, Joshua, and Sophia back to their families. But by confronting reckless driving to prevent future deaths, we will do all we possibly can to make their memory into a blessing,” said Council Member Brad Lander. “Even with the good work we’ve done through 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. 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.”
Pre-introduction co-sponsors of the legislation include Council Members Ritchie Torres, Antonio Reynoso, Donovan Richards, Carlos Menchaca, Adrienne Adams, Steve Levin, Jimmy Van Bramer, Vanessa Gibson, Mark Treyger, Helen Rosenthal, Keith Powers, and Justin Brannan. Supporters of the legislation include Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, Transit Center, the Law Firm of Vacarro and White, and the Red Hook Community Justice Center among other advocates and local leaders.
Every year, approximately 250 New Yorkers are killed and 4,000 are seriously injured in traffic crashes. The city’s Vision Zero initiative has reduced the number of fatalities in recent years, with a focus on making changes to streets and intersections, and by increasing enforcement (especially through red-light and school-zone speed cameras, which advocates have been pleading with Albany to renew and expand).
Still, thousands of reckless drivers speed, run red lights, and fail to yield to pedestrians, with little consequence for their life-threatening behavior, even after they have been ticketed multiple times. Currently, the consequence for traffic violations documented by cameras — running a red-light, or speeding a school-zone — is a $50 fine for each violation, regardless of how many violations a driver racks up.
After the crash that killed Abigail Blumenstein and Joshua Lew, Dorothy Bruns’ horrific driving history came to the surface. Bruns had received five camera violations for running red lights and speeding in school zones in 2017, she perpetrated a hit-and-run last September, and this year received instructions from her doctor not to drive. None of these offenses were enough to get her off the road. Bruns was indicted in May by Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez for two counts of manslaughter in the second degree, criminally negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment of human life.
Bruns is not alone. While most NYC drivers don’t receive a single such violation in the average year, and 99% receive fewer than 5 such violations, about 1% of vehicles in NYC (approximately 26,000 cars) received 5 or more red light camera or speed camera violations over the past year (the same level as Dorothy Bruns). One car was caught on camera committing 49 violations in a single year.
The “Reckless Driver Accountability Act” targets precisely those vehicles. While a comprehensive fix requires change in Albany — since only the State can suspend (or add points to) the licenses of these reckless drivers — the City has the power to boot or impound cars, until their owners complete a Traffic Safety Course designed to change dangerous behavior.
The course will be modelled on the Driver Accountability Program developed by the Center for Court Innovation (and piloted at the Red Hook Community Justice Center) in partnership with Council Member Brad Lander, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, Transportation Alternatives, and Families for Safe Streets. The course uses the principles of restorative justice to address the dangerous behaviors that are the primary cause of pedestrian fatalities. Independent research has shown that participants are 40% less likely to be rearrested for traffic-related offenses than similar drivers who have not gone through the program.
“Coupled with street designs that prioritize and protect the most vulnerable people, the Reckless Driver Accountability Act will play an incredibly important role in the effort to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on New York City streets,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “We’re grateful to Council Member Lander for his tireless work, and for making it clear that dangerous drivers should not be afforded the privilege of operating a car in this city.”
“When we fail to keep dangerous drivers off of our streets, people die. When we fail to take action against known recklessness, people die. When we fail to enforce the laws that are designed to keep us safe, people die. We know we can do better, and we are thankful to have Council Member Lander in our corner, fighting to pass this commonsense legislation that will hold deadly drivers accountable,” said Amy Cohen, founding member of Families for Safe Streets.
“For the safety of our children and our communities, we must do everything in our power to stem reckless driving,” said Public Advocate Letitia James. “The Reckless Driver Accountability Act is an essential piece of legislation that holds careless drivers responsible for their actions, and has the potential to save the lives of New Yorkers. I commend Council Member Brad Lander for his leadership on this issue.”
“This innovative legislation addresses what is almost certainly the top safety and security concern for families across the five boroughs — dangerous driving on our neighborhood streets. For Vision Zero to succeed, New York City needs to do a better job of identifying and reaching out to the most habitually reckless drivers before they cause irreparable harm. This bill is a critical step forward in that effort. Thanks to Council member Lander and his outstanding staff for putting forward the Reckless Driver Accountability Act,” says Aaron Naparstek, co-founder of Park Slope Neighbors, former editor-in-chief and founder of Streetsblog.org.
“I commend Council Member Lander for his continued community leadership in the wake of the deadly crash at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Ninth Street that claimed three of our youngest Brooklynites, a tragedy that we have the power to help prevent from happening to other innocent children and families. From the unspeakable pain of losing Abigail, Joshua, and Sophia, we derive renewed purpose to bring us closer to a true Vision Zero. The Reckless Driver Accountability Act takes concrete steps on the local level to reduce dangerous driving behavior, and I ask my colleagues in the City Council to support its passage,” says Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.
“Under this groundbreaking law, New York City will finally be able to identify and stop dangerous drivers before they injure and kill, using publicly-available traffic offense data, proven methods of driver safety education, and court-approved standards. The program will save lives and make our streets safer,” says Steve Vaccaro of Vaccaro & White.
“We are so pleased that our Red Hook Community Justice Center teamed up to fight dangerous driving by creating the Driver Accountability Group, along with Councilor Lander, as well as NYPD, Brooklyn DA Gonzalez, Transportation Alternatives, and Families for Safe Streets,” Amanda Berman, project director of Red Hook Community Justice Center.
“I thank Council Member Brad Lander for proposing legislation to protect New York City pedestrians,” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso. “The Vision Zero initiative has made significant progress towards protecting residents from vehicular fatality and injury. However, as we were tragically reminded by the horrific crash in Park Slope a few months ago, we must do more to hold reckless drivers accountable. Council Member Lander’s comprehensive legislation will save lives by ensuring that reckless drivers can no longer menace our streets.”
“Passing the Reckless Driver Accountability Act is a great policy innovation that uses City resources and pledges City action to reduce the risk of allowing reckless drivers to stay behind the wheel. It will be a major step forward in making New York the safest big city in America,” says Jon Orcutt of the Transit Center.
“There are far too many injuries and deaths on New York City streets caused by motorists who drive recklessly in our neighborhoods and endanger families. We need to pass sensible legislation with a focus on both prevention and accountability,” said Councilwoman Carlina Rivera. “Council Member Lander’s “Reckless Driver Accountability Act” seeks to rectify traffic policy that lets careless driving behavior go unchecked. Along with the expansion of the Driver Accountability Program, which has proven to reduce rearrests for serious traffic violations, and a proposal to study behavioral causes of traffic collisions, these comprehensive efforts mean safer streets for all New Yorkers.”
“As we have seen far too many tragedies in our communities at the hands of reckless driving, we need to change this culture in New York City,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams. “Reckless driving need to be taken seriously. The proposed legislation is a tangible step to make the streets of New York City safer for everyone and will result in lives being saved. Thank you Council Member Lander for your leadership on this matter.”
“The safety and well-being of New Yorkers comes before everything else. There have been one-too-many traffic tragedies in this city, at a time when we are working toward zero. We need to act to penalize reckless drivers who pose a threat to everyone’s safety – pedestrians, bikers, and fellow drivers. I commend Council Member Lander for taking a stand to address this behavior and am proud to advocate for measures that will make everyone safer,” says Council Member Keith Powers.
“Working together with the City, the Council has been intently focused on the goal of safe, fatality-free streets,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal. “Yet even the most comprehensive reform of street design, crossing signals, and street signage cannot always stop a dangerous driver. We have experienced this devastating truth too many times in my own district. Thanks to the leadership of Council Member Lander, the bills being introduced this week take additional key steps towards holding drivers accountable, and stopping reckless driving. We will not cease in our efforts until we have reached zero fatalities, and every New Yorker feels safe on our streets.”
“This legislative package would ensure that reckless drivers are held accountable and would make our streets safer for everyone. Our laws must be updated and expanded in order to crack down on reckless drivers and protect pedestrians, that’s why these bills are a necessary step forward. I thank Councilman Lander for his leadership in pushing these bills forward and look forward to working with my colleagues in order to pass them in the Council,” said Councilman Torres.
“Habitual reckless driving should not be punished by a slap on the wrist. Drivers need to know they are not the only ones on the road—they share space with pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles. And if they can’t, or won’t, drive in a legal and safe manner, they either need to learn how to drive properly or lose their privilege to drive altogether,” said Council Member Justin Brannan.
“It’s time to put reckless drivers on notice,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “But taking a punitive approach by itself is not enough. We need proactive strategies to prevent tragedies before they happen and a comprehensive plan to identify new opportunities to make our streets safer than ever before. I’m proud to support Council Member Lander and my Council colleagues in taking action in the face of so many lives being lost. I know we all look forward to the day these vehicle-related tragedies become a relic of the past.”
“Too many New Yorkers, particularly children and seniors, are tragically lost or injured every year because of traffic crashes,” said Council Member Mark Treyger. “While it is integral that government continue to re-design traffic patterns and use speed cameras in school zones to limit injury or loss of life due to traffic violence, it’s just as critical that we hold accountable those who fail to obey rules and regulations that are in place because they represent the difference between life and death. I am proud to support Council Member Lander’s legislation, because pedestrians should never have to fear for their safety when walking our city’s streets.”
How the legislation will work:
- Car owners with four camera violations will receive a warning notice, and will be offered the opportunity to enroll in the Driver Accountability Course voluntarily for a small fee to cover the cost of the course.
- Car owners with five (or more) camera violations will be required to enroll in a Driver Accountability Course within 10 days of receiving a notice from DOT.
- Car owners who fail to enroll within 10 days will be subject to impoundment and applicable administrative fees. The car owners will be given the opportunity to attend a hearing five business days following the date of impoundment, where the owner would be required enroll in the Driver Accountability Course immediately and pay applicable towing, storage and administrative fees in order to release the impounded vehicle.
- After a one-year period informed by a report completed by the Mayor’s office, DOT will expand the scope of the program using additional data, taking in account NYPD hit-and-run complaint reports, MV104AM accident reports, convictions of reckless driving, unusual driving activities of vehicles registered to people with suspended licenses, and other indicators of dangerous driving behavior.
The announcement also includes a proposal to expand the Driver Accountability program that the Center for Court Innovation currently operates in Red Hook and Staten Island to all five boroughs. The program is a group intervention available to individuals who are arrested for driving-related offenses. It is offered as a condition of a guilty plea or other disposition (such as a dismissal or an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal) on both misdemeanor and summons cases, for a range of driving-related offenses such as VTL 1212 (Reckless Driving); VTL 1192 (Driving While Intoxicated); VTL 511 and 509 (Driving with a Suspended or No License); AC 19-190 (Failure to Yield to a Pedestrian).
In the words of one recent participant, who admitted to driving at nearly twice the legal speed limit at the time of his arrest:
“The video brought to my attention the possibilities of dangerous driving. I could have hurt families. These are things people don’t usually think about when they’re in the moment. It’s a matter of a bad habit that people need to break out of. But I’ve been working on those 18 days [to form better driving habits]. As I’m sitting with my friends and they’re recklessly driving, I’m the one to tell them stop, slow down… I’m that annoying guy now. I’m definitely working on speeding and dangerous driving in general – I have to stop that. 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. I always thought, “I know what I’m doing,” but you don’t really know what you’re doing if you’re not thinking of the consequences.”
There is currently no comparable program in the country that addresses dangerous driving with a restorative approach emphasizing the impact on victims and fostering meaningful behavior change among participants. Expanding the program to all five boroughs would cost $1 million.
Finally, the Reckless Driver Accountability Act would require the City to produce an annual study on dangerous driving to determine which driving behaviors are associated with traffic crashes, injuries, and fatalities, and to make recommendations for reducing dangerous driving.
While we maintain and analyze data on which streets and intersections have the most crashes, injuries, and fatalities, there is surprisingly little information or analysis on the patterns of reckless drivers, the harms they cause, and what we can to change their behavior.
In previous generations, public policy, education, and enforcement led to dramatic reductions in drunk driving, and significant increases in seatbelt-wearing, saving countless lives. Today, we must do the same for reckless driving. The annual study of dangerous driving will help NYC better understand the problem, and tailor our strategy to combat it.
Attached photo: Council Member Brad Lander is joined by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales, Kathleen Daniel from the office of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Steve Vaccaro of Vaccaro & White, Paul Steely White and Dulcie Canton of Transportation Alternatives, and Dana Lerner and Amy Cohen of Families for Safe Streets.