NEW YORK, NY — Safe streets advocates joined Speaker Corey Johnson, Council Member Brad Lander, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and elected officials to rally in support of legislation to curtail reckless driving ahead of NYC Council’s vote Tuesday. The Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Law will create a pilot program to send the owners of vehicles that regularly speed through red lights or rack up school speed camera tickets to a traffic safety course. Covered vehicles whose owners fail to take the remedial course will be subject to impoundment. The New York City Council will vote on the legislation, Int. 971, Tuesday afternoon.
In the spring of 2018, a reckless driver with a history of red light violations sped through an intersection in front of Council Member Brad Lander’s district office, killing two small children. After learning about the driver’s long record of unsafe driving behavior — and the large number of other drivers with similar records still on the road — Lander introduced legislation targeting the owners of cars with high numbers of violations to reduce dangerous driving and save lives.
“When Abigail Blumenstein and Joshua Lew were killed by a driver with a history of speeding and running red lights right outside my office two years ago, we pledged to do something to intervene with the most reckless drivers before they kill or injure any more of our neighbors,” said Council Member Brad Lander, the lead sponsor of Intro. 971. “Today we are taking a big step forward, launching the first program of its kind in the country to require owners of the most dangerous vehicles to consider the impact of their driving on their neighbors. Thanks to the powerful advocacy of Families for Safe Streets members, who shared their painful stories of loss over and over again to make the case for this bill, Transportation Alternatives, a tremendous set of safe streets advocates, lawyers, and data researchers, in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportation, the Law Department, City Hall, the NYC Sheriff, and with Speaker Corey Johnson’s steadfast support, we are ready to move forward with an innovative, data-driven, scalable program to begin getting reckless drivers off the road.”
New research from the NYC Department of Transportation shows a correlation between frequent red light and speed camera violations and injury-related crashes. These vehicles have a detrimental effect on public health and safety because they are more likely to be involved in accidents, causing injuries or death to pedestrians, bicyclists, and vehicle occupants.
The bill establishes a legal framework and process for a three-year pilot of a carefully crafted dangerous vehicle abatement program. Owners of vehicles with 5 or more red light violations or 15 or more school speed camera violations in a 12-month period would be required to take a specified driver accountability course. Companies or organizations whose vehicles meet these thresholds will be required to designate an individual responsible for fulfilling the requirements of the program. If a vehicle’s owner or responsible driver fails to take the course, the vehicle will be subject to impoundment by the Sheriff.
The course will be modeled on a driver accountability program piloted by the Center for Court Innovation in Red Hook. Since 2015, the Center has implemented a restorative justice approach to educating drivers about the consequences of reckless behaviors that endanger pedestrians, cyclists, and fellow motorists. Skilled facilitators lead participants through a process of self-reflection and discussion culminating in commitments to address specific dangerous driving practices. The program has found that participants are 40% less likely to be rearrested for a traffic-related offense.
Traffic fatalities in NYC have decreased in recent years following the implementation of the City’s Vision Zero initiatives. However, in 2019 traffic deaths spiked once again. Overall traffic deaths were up to 220, from 204 in 2018, and the number of cyclists tripled, with 28 people struck and killed across the city.
“Passing this bill is a major step forward in this Council’s fight for safe streets. I congratulate Council Member Lander for his work to get this bill done and I thank the safe streets advocates who worked with us throughout this process. We should be proud of our efforts to make this law a reality, and we will continue to build on this success in our ongoing fight for a city where people don’t have to live in fear of death or injury from cars,” said Speaker Corey Johnson.
“We thank Council member Lander and the entire Council for this bold step being taken today to help New York City deliver on our Vision Zero goals to make our streets safer,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “Under Mayor de Blasio’s leadership, we are dramatically expanding the number of speed cameras on our streets — installing more cameras in 2020 than we have in the last six years combined. Most drivers learn their lessons from these cameras. However, under this bill, the drivers who do not learn that lesson will be held accountable.”
“Driving is a privilege, not a right. This landmark bill, the first in the nation, will make New York City safer for everyone by addressing the threat posed by our worst drivers ,” said Danny Harris, Executive Director, Transportation Alternatives. “We thank City Council Speaker Johnson and Council Member Lander for their leadership on street safety. Like them, we believe that no one should have to fear death or serious injury when walking or biking in New York City.”
“Ray loved riding his bike in New York. He was a small business owner and was riding his bike to work on the Lower East side when he was killed by a known reckless driver,” said Catherine Lepp of Families for Safe Streets. “If this bill had been in effect, he’d likely still be alive. Instead, our boys were left to grow up without their father and we’ve been struggling to pick up the pieces.”
“With this bill we will remove the cars of the most reckless drivers from our streets and create a path to justice and accountability for those worst offenders. I am grateful to CM Lander and to all the advocates and families who worked so hard to make this happen. I am voting yes thinking of all those who have lost loved ones to vehicular violence. I am honored to be able to do this for them today,” said Council Member Stephen Levin.
“The era of flagrantly dangerous and reckless driving with zero consequences is over. The Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Law, together with my School Zone Speed Camera Expansion Bill, will be a powerful force in incentivizing behavior that leads to safer streets. Together, these laws will reduce the number of tragedies and families who receive the news that their loved one isn’t coming home. Kudos to Brad Lander for his tireless efforts to pass this legislation and all the advocates, many with personal experience of traffic violence, who fought hard for this moment,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes.
“Council Member Lander’s Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program will be a model for using technology to intervene with the city’s most dangerous drivers before they do harm to someone. There’s a strong correlation between repeated speeding and red-light running offenses and a driver’s propensity to end up in an injury-causing crash, and getting them off the road and into a remedial driving course will quite literally save lives. We’re grateful to Council Member Lander and his staff for their diligence in advancing this legislation, to Speaker Johnson and Mayor de Blasio for working through any concerns, and to the dedicated safe-streets advocates who devoted countless hours to bring this idea to fruition,” said Eric McClure, Executive Director of StreetsPAC.