Vance, lawmakers look to tighten penalties for dangerous drivers

Cy Vance, Manhattan DA, speaks during a news  conference  April 4, 2017.
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is pushing for stricter punishments for “dangerous drivers.” (File photo)

Drivers involved in crashes causing deaths and serious injuries could face stiffer penalties under newly announced legislation.

State lawmakers and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance unveiled the “Vehicular Violence Accountability Act” Tuesday, which would create four new offenses under state law relating to the most serious traffic serious crashes and tweak existing laws with the intent on filling loopholes that allow for dangerous motorists to avoid punishment.

“We have an epidemic of vehicular violence in the city today… a New Yorker or a visitor today is as likely to be killed by a car as they are to be murdered with a knife or a gun,” said Vance, who oversaw the drafting of the legislation based on a report from a state Grand Jury he empaneled.

The act would establish a new class A misdemeanor for “Death by Vehicle” when a driver fails to exercise “due care” while also committing another traffic infraction leading to the death of another person. It would also create a class B misdemeanor under the same circumstances for a driver who seriously injures another person.

Those two charges would be upgraded to a class E felony and a class A misdemeanor, respectively, under a series of other circumstances, including if the driver knows their license is suspended; has a string of recent vehicular convictions; was driving more than 20 mph above the posted speed limit or violates more than one moving violation.

The legislation comes as the city’s traffic safety program, Vision Zero, has experienced a tragic uptick in cycling and pedestrian deaths in 2019 after several years of continually dropping fatalities.

Buffalo State Senator Timothy Kennedy, a sponsor of the legislation and the Transportation Committee chair, said the act would complement the design and educational elements of Vision Zero.

“We also all need to make sure law enforcement officials have the resources and tools they need at their disposal in order to effectively prosecute those who fail to follow traffic laws designed to keep people safe,” said Kennedy.

Advocates and the de Blasio administration supported the effort, arguing that state laws have led to low arrest rates in fatal crashes.

“The truth is our laws are not strong enough,” said NYPD Chief Terence Monahan. “There are people we want to take off the roads and can’t—even after a fatal crash.”