By Christina Santucci
Two Queens lawmakers have introduced a pair of state bills to make prison time part of the penalty for unlicensed drivers who injure or kill others while behind the wheel and to immediately take away unlicensed drivers’ vehicles.
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) and state Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Ridgewood) were joined by City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), safety advocates and neighborhood residents Sunday afternoon to announce the proposed legislation, at 69th Place and Grand Avenue, the intersection where 69-year-old Angela Hurtado had been walking en route to Maspeth Bingo Hall when she was hit and killed earlier this month.
Gianaris said he introduced a Senate version of one of the bills after Noshat Nahin, a third-grader trying to cross Northern Boulevard in Woodside, was fatally struck by a tractor trailer in December. The drivers in both fatal accidents were charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, authorities said.
“We were talking to Transportation Alternatives and they indicated to us there is a big, gaping hole in the law that someone who kills someone when they are driving illegally due to a suspended licence can only be charged with a misdemeanor,” Gianaris said.
One of the state bills would make injuring or killing someone while driving without a license a Class E felony, which carries a sentence of up to four years behind bars.
“Driving is a privilege, having a license is a privilege, not a right,” Markey said. “Those who commit these horrific accidents should have to pay for it, and I think they should go to prison.”
A second state bill would give law enforcement the power to immediately impound the license plate of a vehicle driven by a person with a suspended license.
“If drivers start seeing that just as drunken driving is no longer acceptable in our society, if they see that reckless driving is no longer acceptable either, that will begin to change, and that’s an important part of solving the problem,” said Laura Newman, one of several members of Make Queens Safer, who attended in support of the bills. “There are too many people getting killed.”
Markey said after a recent spate of traffic fatalities that she planned to address safety in her monthly newsletter and speak at senior centers about ways to stay safe.
But the onus remained with the driver to avoid hitting pedestrians, she said.
“When you are behind the wheel of a car with hundreds of horsepower behind it, you are responsible not only for your own safety, but for the people on the street,” Markey said.
Gianaris said the elected officials had offered their support to Hurtado’s family, which was in the process of transporting the senior’s body to her homeland of Ecuador to be buried.
The lawmakers said they believed their colleagues, including state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), whose district includes Maspeth, would back the proposed legislation.
“Unfortunately, the more this happens, the more support we get,” Gianaris said.
Reach managing editor Christina Santucci by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org by phone at 718-260-4589.