Holding Reckless Drivers Accountable

Holding Reckless Drivers Accountable

Across our neighborhoods, we’ve witnessed too many tragedies where reckless drivers have killed or seriously injured neighbors and loved ones. The three young teens who were students at MS 51 (Sammy Cohen-Eckstein, Joie Sellers, and Mohammed Naiem Uddin) are not the only pedestrians killed in our district over the past few years. Others have been seniors, workers at local businesses, and young people just starting their careers.

We’ve made a lot of progress since Mayor de Blasio launched “Vision Zero” last year. Pedestrian deaths in 2014 were the lowest in a century. But there’s still a long way to go, toward our goal of a city without senseless traffic deaths.

Reckless driving acts – especially speeding, running red lights, and failing to yield – are the most common causes of preventable fatal crashes. But even in the most outrageous cases, where someone drives with a suspended license, speeds, whips around a corner, and kills a pedestrian, our legal system currently provides for little more than a slap on the wrist. If we’re serious about achieving Vision Zero, we need to change that.

This month, here in Brooklyn, we are taking an important step in that direction. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson and I along with the street safety advocacy groups Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets, announced a new task force—the first of its kind in New York—dedicated to holding drivers accountable in instances of reckless driving in Brooklyn. You can read more about the work the task force plans to accomplish in the New York Times.

After our community lost Naiem Uddin to a dangerous driver this fall, I worked with his family to help them seek justice for their son. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson agreed to meet with Naiem’s family, street safety advocates, and me, to discuss the DA’s commitment to aggressive prosecution of the driver who killed Naiem. Out of those conversations, DA Thompson, advocates, and I decided to establish the new task force—with the goal of making Brooklyn a model borough for reckless driver accountability.

The task force plans to go about this work in several ways:

  1. Effective enforcement of the laws we already have, including the new Vision Zero laws that the City Council passed last year (especially the “Right of Way” law, Section 19-190, which increases penalties for drivers who kill or seriously injure pedestrians who have the right-of-way). We are closely coordinating this work with the NYPD. Inspector Mike Ameri, the former commanding officer of the 78th Precinct and Vision Zero star who now heads the NYPD’s Highway Divison and Collision Investigation Squad, attended the first meeting and is eager to work with us.
  2. Increased transparency about which cases are prosecuted, and how traffic laws are enforced, so we have a sense of what’s taking place across the borough, and can show real action.
  3. We are working with the DA’s office to explore “restorative justice” sanctions against those who are convicted – including having reckless drivers meet with panels comprised of family-members of traffic victims, and expanding available victim and family supports for those who are killed or injured. Restorative justice models are designed to help those who have been harmed in the healing process, and to address the underlying causes of crime. This has proved effective in many areas, including dramatic reductions in drunk driving.
  4. We are also exploring new State legislation to strengthen current laws. The DA is only able to prosecute as far as the current laws go, so we’ll be working with State and City legislatures to eliminate the loopholes that allow reckless drivers to escape their actions without meaningful consequences. 

I’m grateful to District Attorney Thompson for his partnership (and that Brooklyn has such an innovative, forward-looking DA). In addition to the DA, the NYPD, street safety advocates, and family members, the task force will include the NYC Department of Probation, restorative justice experts including the Center for Court Innovation and Judge Alex Calabrese from the Red Hook Community Justice Center, and other local, state, and federal legislators.

Enormous credit goes to Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives, whose tireless commitment to this cause has showed leaders across the city that New Yorkers are willing to stand up for what’s right on our streets.

I’m hopeful about what this task force means for Brooklyn (and hopefully soon for the rest of New York). Accountability is a significant step in the direction of changing our culture of tolerance for reckless driving, bringing some measure of justice and healing to families, making us all think more behind the wheel, and most importantly, of saving more lives. That is a goal worthy of Sammy, Joie, and Naiem’s memories.


P.S. On another streets-related note, we recently held a City Council hearing on a bill I’m sponsoring that would require the NYC Department of Transportation to develop a comprehensive plan to expand bus rapid transit (BRT) across NYC. If you’re not familiar with BRT, check it out.

Under DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and with strong support from Mayor de Blasio, NYC is expanding BRT through its “Select Bus Service” routes, and moving toward its first “full-featured” route on Woodhaven Boulevard to the Rockaways. Full-featured bus rapid transit looks something like a bus-subway hybrid, with buses using their own lanes separated by a center median, riders pre-paying their fares, and boarding on elevated platforms to speed up trip times. BRT is incredibly cost effective to implement. Adding new subway lines to rapid-transit-starved parts of the city takes decades and cost billions of dollars. A citywide BRT network is something we can afford and can implement rapidly, that will really make a difference to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

BRT will help us achieve our goal of a more equitable city, by serving low-income neighborhoods and communities of color with disproportionately long commuting times. And as we heard at the hearing, BRT also helps with our Vision Zero goals, by letting us re-engineer dangerous corridors into streets that are much safer for transit-riders, cyclists and pedestrians.

Thanks to the Riders Alliance, the Pratt Center, Transportation Alternatives, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Working Families Party, and the Association for a Better New York for compelling testimony at the hearing (you know we’ve got something interesting here when both WFP and ABNY support it).

Check out news coverage here and here if you’re interested in reading more.