City Council passes revised ‘Reckless Driver Accountability Act’

Brooklyn city Councilman Brad Lander at a Tuesday press conference. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

Landmark legislation passed City Council on Tuesday that would impound the cars of repeat red light and speed camera offenders until they pass a class to get back on the road.

Councilman Brad Lander’s bill, known colloquially as the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, will sic the New York City Sheriff’s office on vehicles after five red light violations or 15 speed camera tickets within a 12-month period if a highly successful class is not passed.

Lander addressed concerns that the bill’s teeth had been filed down after the city Law Department reworked the bill for legal purposes with the belief that an estimated 5,000 drivers taken off the road a year was a manageable limit for the city.

Officially known as the Dangerous Driver Abatement Program, Lander said it was inspired by a Brooklyn crash in March 2018 that killed two children and injured a pregnant woman who lost her child.

The pressure to rein in reckless drivers comes after 2019 proved to be the deadliest year for cyclists in over 20 years with 29 deaths.

“I think what this crash makes clear is that we are not yet focusing enough attention on the most reckless drivers. It’s intuitive that the most reckless drivers are disproportionately likely to injure or kill other New Yorkers, but it is not something yet that any city or any state is really focusing on,” Lander said. 

Drivers whose vehicles have been impounded will be forced to take the Safe Vehicle Operation course offered by the Department of Transportation praised for its record of reducing reckless driving recidivism by 40 percent.

Prior to the vote, City Council Speaker Johnson told reporters that Lander had been through the wringer with multiple legal counsels and advocates to expel “constitutional issues” while still having a predicted effect.

“These are vehicles that rack up red light and speeding tickets, they are a small but dangerous group that put the safety of New Yorkers at risk every single day,” Johnson said. “We can’t continue to watch the number of pedestrians being killed by vehicles go up without taking bold action to hold reckless drivers accountable.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that he agreed with the bill as it was, but that he would also back amendments to crack down on reckless drivers further considering how the pilot period goes.

“I think that this is an example of the legal dynamics that are being considered here and ensuring that a bill stands, and you know passes muster in a court of law going forward. I think there’s an attempt here to guard against the danger … And I think there’s an abundance of caution from the lawyers in the writing of the bill,” de Blasio said on Inside City Hall with Errol Louis. “It’s that we are trying to address a very legal need in this legislation but if we can find a way to do it for fewer offenses, I would be happy to” sign it.

Brooklyn Councilman Carlos Menchaca, in casting his vote in the chamber, said he was voting in favor of DVAP despite his criticism that it was “watered-down” and that he hope there would be changes later down the line.