NYPD Charges 0.7 Percent of Drivers Who Injure and Kill With Careless Driving

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

Three years after Albany established the offense of careless driving, NYPD continues to apply the law in only a tiny fraction of crashes that result in the death or injury of pedestrians and cyclists.

There were 152 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the city in 2012, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and 14,327 injuries. Of those 14,479 crashes, DMV data show NYPD cited 101 motorists for careless driving. That’s a citation rate of less than 1 percent.

It’s also the most careless driving citations issued by NYPD in a single year since Hayley and Diego’s Law took effect in 2010, when police wrote 99 summonses. In 2011, the first full year NYPD had the new law as part of its traffic enforcement toolkit, it was applied just 87 times.

The careless driving statute, part of Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1146, is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, toddlers who were killed in 2009 when a van, left unattended and idling, rolled onto a sidewalk in Chinatown. The driver was not charged by NYPD, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, or his successor Cy Vance.

Careless driving was intended as a minimum penalty to hold drivers who injure and kill accountable, in lieu of a more serious criminal charge. Under the law, drivers who injure pedestrians or cyclists while failing to exercise due care are subject to mandatory drivers’ ed, and could be sentenced to fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months.

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

In February 2012, 16 months after the law went into effect, NYPD revealed that the department prohibits precinct cops from issuing careless driving citations unless an officer witnesses a violation, or the crash is investigated by the Accident Investigation Squad (now known as the Collision Investigation Squad). Since CIS investigates a relative handful of crashes a year — around 300 cases annually for some 14,000 injury and fatal crashes — in effect NYPD does not enforce against careless driving. NYPD said the protocol was adopted after summonses were dismissed in court because officers weren’t witnessing violations, but department brass didn’t say how many cases were thrown out.

Data on NYPD careless driving citations was obtained from the DMV after a freedom of information request from Transportation Alternatives. “The promise of the law was that the driver who, while driving carelessly, killed or injured a pedestrian or bicyclist wouldn’t be able to leave without any consequences,” says TA general counsel Juan Martinez. “Right now, if you injure somebody, unless you critically injure them, there’s no consequence. That’s not what legislators had in mind when they passed the law.”

Martinez noted last year that the prohibition against beat cops writing careless driving citations is contradicted by an opinion from the state attorney general, as well as case law.

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and State Senator Dan Squadron, the original bill’s primary sponsors, have tried for two years to amend the law and close the purported “loophole.” We have asked Kavanagh’s office whether he plans to try again in the next legislative session. We’ll update here when we hear back.