Lawmakers Continue To Stall on Bills To Keep Pedestrians, Cyclists Safe

Familiy For Safe Streets rally outside City Hall Park. Photo: Fiifi Frimpong
Familiy For Safe Streets rally outside City Hall Park. Photo: Fiifi Frimpong

Top state lawmakers have struck out on a package of pending street safety bills, and today is the last chance for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie to grab a bat and get in the game.

Both the Senate and Assembly transportation committees have held their last votes of the legislative term — which ends on Thursday — but Albany’s Byzantine process allows the leaders of both houses to jumpstart any bill even without a vote in its respective committee before the end of the session. And supporters of the Crash and Victim Safety Act — a package of eight bills that advocates believe are absolutely critical to making roadways safer for the most vulnerable road users — are now focusing their attention on Assembly leader Heastie and his Senate counterpart, Andrea Stewart-Cousins.

Advocates for the package, such as Families For Safe Streets Co-Founder Amy Cohen, remain frustrated.

“It is outrageous that the Senate and Assembly Transportation Committees adjourned for the year without holding a hearing or advancing the full Crash Victim Rights & Safety Act,” said Cohen, whose son, Sammy, was killed by a reckless driver in 2013 and whose name is attached to a bill that would allow New York City to set its own speed limits without needing Albany approval. “We have a crisis. Three New Yorkers like my son are killed every day, year after year, with no end in sight.”

At this point, the process of getting any of the remaining bills passed is entirely “leader-driven,” according to a spokesperson for Senator Andrew Gounardes, who has sponsored six bills in the package. No, there are no more scheduled transportation committee meetings for this session, but Heastie or Stewart-Cousins can simply move any pending bill to the floor for a vote by dint of being head of the Rules Committee. Neither has returned calls from Streetsblog. Advocates are getting frenetic in the hours before the close of session.

“When we have a vaccine for an epidemic, it is outrageous for our elected officials to withhold that vaccine,” said Marco Conner DiAquoi, the deputy director for Transportation Alternatives. “That is precisely what is happening now in Albany by not passing the Crash Victims and Safety Act. But there is still time for the Senate and Assembly, particularly Speaker Heastie, to do the right thing.”

The Rules Committee process is fairly common late in the legislative session. Indeed, Sen. Jessica Ramos’s bill to allow cargo bikes to be 48 inches wide instead of 36 inches passed the full Senate on Wednesday by a 62-1 vote after being pushed to the floor without having been voted on in the Transportation Committee.

Mayor de Blasio supports the package, including Sammy’s Law, the bill would repeal a state regulation prohibiting New York City from lowering the speed limit below 25 mph (or 15 mph in school zones). The package is considered essential because 2021 is on track to be the bloodiest year for traffic violence since de Blasio launched Vision Zero in 2014, according to Transportation Alternatives and safety advocate group Families For Safe Streets.

So far, only three bills in the package have passed the NY Senate:

  • Pre-test driver education bills (S1078A/A5084) would require specific training for new motorists on how to deal with cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Safe Passage For Cyclists (S4529/A547) would provide a clear objective definition of what a “safe distance” is for motorists when overtaking bicyclists on the road (at least three feet), provide a mechanism for accountability following a crash and foster a culture of safer driving through education. The Senate version has passed, though it carved out New York City for this vital safety improvement.
  • Reckless driving pre-licensing courses bill (S6202/A7032) would provide certain presumptions for reckless driving. Bill would also implement a reckless driving and vehicular violence awareness component of the pre-licensing course for driver’s license.

The remaining bills are:

  • Sammy’s Law (S524A/A4655).
  • Dangerous Driving “Rule of Two” (S7894/A8881A) would clarify existing law to address allow prosecutions of drivers for committing one moving violation instead of requiring two wrongful acts such as speeding, running a red, failure to yield, etc. The legislation would also replace “reckless” with “dangerous” in “reckless driving” so that prosecutors no longer have to prove that a driver willfully committed a violent act with a car.
  • Vehicle Safety Rating (S4307/A575) would require the state DOT and the state Department of Motor Vehicles to create a safety-rating system to assess the risk a motor vehicle poses to vulnerable road users, and would require that such ratings be displayed at the point of sale and on a state website. No safety-rating system exists for risks a vehicle poses to people outside a car, which are especially acute for large, heavy vehicles. In New York City, 25 of the 29 cyclists who were killed in 2019 were killed by drivers of large trucks, buses, SUVs or vans.
  • Speed-Safety Camera Improvement (S5602/A6681) would authorize New York City to operate speed-safety cameras 24/7, would escalate penalties for extreme repeat offenders, including license suspension and would allow records of speeding to be shared with auto insurance companies.
  • Traffic-Crash-Victim Bill of Rights which gives crash victims rights like those of the federal Crime Victims’ Rights Act, including the right to receive timely crash reports and the right to attend crash-related hearings and submit impact statements. It would also require the state to report data about crash-victim compensation and support, including no-fault insurance and private insurance.
  • Blood-Alcohol Content Lowered to .05 (S131/A7197) would lower the blood alcohol concentration limit for driving from .08 percent to .05 percent because drivers are likely to be impaired at the current level. The bill has been introduced every session since 2013.