Victims’ Families and Electeds Urge Paterson to Sign Traffic Safety Law

StringerHayleyDiego.JPGManhattan Borough President Scott Stringer pressed for traffic safety legislation. He was joined by, from left, Council Member Margaret Chin, the families of Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White. Photo: Noah Kazis

With the stroke of a pen, Governor David Paterson could make New York’s streets safer for walking and biking. Hayley and Diego’s Law, which creates a new charge for law enforcement to bring against drivers who carelessly injure pedestrians and cyclists, needs only his signature to become law. At a rally at City Hall today, elected officials and Transportation Alternatives joined the families of children killed by reckless drivers to urge the governor to sign the legislation.

State Senator Daniel Squadron, who sponsored the bill with Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, led off the rally. He was joined by the families of Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, two preschoolers killed last year while walking through Chinatown with their classmates. A delivery van that had been left idling jumped the curb, killing the children, but the driver wasn’t charged with any infraction.

By defining a new infraction that increases the likelihood that drivers will face consequences for injuring pedestrians and cyclists, said Squadron, Hayley and Diego’s Law will "send the message that careless driving is dangerous and unacceptable." For a first offense, the bill would impose a penalty of $750, 15 days of jail time, or a driver training course; for a second offense, the penalty would be a misdemeanor charge.

Squadron also provided an update on the bill’s status. Though it passed the legislature around three weeks ago, it hasn’t been presented to the governor yet. When that happens, the governor will have ten days in which to sign or veto the bill. "We’re hopeful that the governor will sign it," said Squadron, adding, however, that "I don’t think they’ve fully looked at it yet."

A Paterson spokesperson later confirmed that the governor will review the legislation once the bill reaches his desk.

The strongest words came from Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. "Enough is enough," he said. "We want our streets back for our children and frail elderly." Stringer also highlighted the particular need to curb speeding. Forty percent of New York City drivers exceed the speed limit, said Stringer, citing a 2009 Transportation Alternatives study and noting that crashes are nearly twice as deadly at 40 mph as at 30 mph. "When you get into a car, the life of the surrounding community is in your hands," he concluded.

Local Council Member Margaret Chin said the deaths of two small children served as a wake-up call. "What happened to Hayley and Diego showed how dangerous our streets are for our pedestrians," she said. Chin also promised that the City Council would continue to fight for pedestrian safety.