Pol: Change traffic response policy

Local politicians rallied to rule reckless riders off the road, saying bad drivers belong behind bars, not the wheel.

According to NYPD policy, an Accident Investigation Squad (AIS) is only deployed to crash scenes in which a victim has been declared dead or “likely to die” by a medical professional. For all other cases, patrol officers will fill out an accident report, but cannot launch an in-depth examination.

“What that means in real terms is that someone could speed through an intersection, cripple a person, and most likely that driver will not face criminal charges,” said Councilmember Peter Vallone, who held a joint hearing with Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca — examining the NYPD’s traffic accident response, investigations and enforcement of traffic rules.

Additionally, according to the NYPD, policy states only members of AIS can issue violations and make arrests when no police officer witnessed the accident.

“Far too many people have been injured, or narrowly avoided injury, and have seen the reckless driver responsible get away with it because the police have refused to investigate,” said Vallone, who is also chair of the Public Safety Committee. “People have been severely hit, and the drivers who injured them were not punished in any way other than perhaps getting a traffic ticket.”

According to data from the hearing, more New Yorkers died at the hands of reckless or speeding drivers than gunfire from 2000 to 2009, although NYPD Deputy Chief John Cassidy of the Transportation Bureau said there was an all-time record low of traffic fatalities last year.

Cassidy said there were 241 deaths in 2011 — a 39 percent decrease from 2001.

Still, Vallone said the “insufficient laws” are coupled with a drastically decreasing uniform headcount throughout the department. He said within the Transportation Bureau, there were only 211 highway officers in 2011 — down from 376 in 2001.

“We need to stop allowing our police department to be decimated. That is obviously going to have an impact when it comes to enforcement,” said Vallone. “We hope that this hearing will yield information that will keep our streets safer for all — [especially if you] have been injured at the hands of a reckless driver who got away with it due to our current laws.”

Pending legislation supported by Vallone and Vacca calls on the state to give police officers authority to issue summonses even if the officer was not present at the time of the accident, as long as the officer has reasonable cause to believe the violation was committed by the driver.

“It does not seem to be a priority for the NYPD to weed out these dangerous motorists who are harming innocent pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Vallone. “We’re upset. Reckless drivers have been put back on the road and can injure more people.”

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