DOT Does Not Back Brad Lander’s Plan to Impound Vehicles With More Than Four Camera Violations

The Reckless Driver Accountability Act is on hold until the state puts the city's speed cameras back online, Lander said.

Council Member Brad Lander. Photo: Jeff Reed for NYC Council
Council Member Brad Lander. Photo: Jeff Reed for NYC Council

After further review, Council Member Brad Lander’s proposal to impound vehicles caught on camera with more than four violations … needs further review.

A top Department of Transportation official told the Council on Wednesday that the de Blasio administration would love to support the Lander bill currently under consideration, but can’t right now — and not only because speed cameras have been turned off.

“This administration… supports escalating sanctions for camera violations, up to and including taking the worst offending vehicles off the road,” DOT Chief Operations Officer Margaret Forgione said. Lander’s bill, she added, “raises legal issues that require further review” and presents “operational questions.”

Roughly one percent of drivers commit more than four speed camera or red light violations — the equivalent of 26,000 cars. But camera violations do not lead to license or insurance points, which allows individuals with long track records of dangerous driving to continue to operate vehicles on city streets.

Intro. 971, proposed before Senate Republicans let the speed camera program expire earlier this summer, aimed to change that by adding extra teeth to the automated enforcement system. After four camera violations, drivers would be invited to complete a driving safety course. On the fifth violation, their vehicles would be impounded until they complete the course.

DOT did not divulge more details about why the bill would be unfeasible.

The city would likely not be able to charge drivers to cover the fees for their impounded vehicles without it being considered a financial penalty, which requires authorization from the state.

The legislation originated in March, after the crash that killed Abigail Blumenstein and Joshua Lew and injured their mothers and another pedestrian on Ninth Street in Park Slope. Driver Dorothy Bruns’s car had been tagged eight times for red light and speed camera violations, but she continued to drive.

With the speed cameras shut off, however, the proposal is more or less moot, Lander said, adding that it’s unclear if the city even has the authority to charge drivers for the cost of the safety course and vehicle impounds. The previous camera authorization limits financial penalties to $50, or $75 if the fines are not paid in time.

Testifying before the council, attorney Steve Vaccaro argued that the city has the authority to impound cars, require drivers take the safety course, and making them pay the cost of both because doing so would not directly constitute a “financial penalty.”

Despite that, Lander said he hopes the state legislature would give the city explicit power to hold repeat offenders accountable and charge them for it.

“The best [outcome] would be a re-authorization of the speed camera legislation, with [the] clear ability for the city to target the most reckless drivers  for an intervention at those drivers’ expense, ” Lander said. “Let’s fight to get that.”

Meanwhile, the second half of Lander’s Reckless Driver Accountability Act — Intro. 972, which requires an annual study of dangerous driving behaviors — would need cooperation from the state DMV, which maintains much of the data necessary for preparing those reports.

But the bill could be amended to explicitly use data already in the city’s docket, Vaccaro said.

Lander’s bills have 21 co-sponsors — close to a majority of the 51-seat Council.