In a city transformed by Vision Zero in the past decade, one goal still hangs heavy over the heads of New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to impetuous drivers: the passage of the Reckless Driver Accountability Act in City Council.
Councilman Brad Lander of Brooklyn introduced the bill in June 2018; since then, advocates said, 362 road fatalities have rocked the city, many of the victims being children. The most recent tragedy involved 10-year-old Srijan Panthee, who was killed in Corona, Queens, by a driver operating a city Department of Sanitation truck on Jan. 7.
The Reckless Driver Accountability Act — which would impound or boot the cars of drivers who rack up five or more red-light and/or speed camera violations in a single year until they complete an accountability program — has the enough backing from council members to pass, according to its supporters.
Even so, the bill remains stalled at City Hall as a result of potential legal challenges. On Saturday, Lander along with Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives rallied outside the seat of city government for the bill to move forward.
Lander believes reckless drivers account for the 1 percent most dangerous motorists. His legislation was created following a March 2018 incident in which driver by the name Dorothy Bruns, who had five camera violations in 2017, struck and killed two children as well as a pregnant woman who lost her unborn child in Park Slope.
“It was just a punch in the gut for our whole neighborhood,” Lander said. “We did not need to wait for her to kill those two beautiful children to recognize that she was one of our city’s most reckless drivers and get her to change her driving behavior or get her off the street.”
Fellow Councilmen Antonio Reynoso and Andy King were the only two lawmakers out of the 30 attendees at the Jan. 11 rally, but Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and her Brooklyn counterpart Eric Adams delivered remarks alongside city Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
“I’m tired of the City Council playing politics with the lives of our children, because this should already have been passed,” Stringer said. “When you don’t care about a baby carriage or a 5-year-old, I don’t care whether or not you ever drive again.”
In February 2019, the bill still languished in limbo as the state Legislature had failed to approve funding for the expansion of school zone speed cameras which were solely operating under an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo. Before the bill could be enacted, Lander said, the speed cameras would need to be in place for the long run — which could mean the state handing authority to the city to mandate how its own cameras are deployed.
Reynoso called out the City Council’s leadership as being hypocritical in its scrutiny over the bill.
“What we have a is a democratic institution in the City Council that stands up against gun violence when children are killed. [Democrats] say it is unbelievable that [Republicans] would not pass common sense gun reform when children are dying. Now we have an opportunity to pass common sense driver accountability reform in the City Council because children are dying and we don’t do it. That is hypocrisy at its highest level,” Reynoso said. “It is sad that we would stand here against Republicans but as Democrats do the same thing when it comes to this issue.”
Gun violence is not the only public safety issue in which Republican lawmakers failed to act. In 2018, the then-Republican majority of the state Senate, under the leadership of state Senator John Flanagan, ignored calls for a special session to pass more funding for speed cameras in New York City as the program was reaching its expiration.
Under Lander’s bill, not only would reckless drivers face temporarily losing their vehicles, the Driver Accountability Program — currently only available in Red Hook and Staten Island — would be expanded to cover the entire city. The bill would also require the city to conduct an annual study on the types of behaviors most related to traffic crashes, injuries and fatalities.