There Are Far Too Many Bad Drivers on New York Roads

A mid-March school zone speeding accident in Brooklyn, in which two pedestrian children were killed and their pregnant mother injured, has renewed public outcry for a crackdown on traffic violators throughout NYC.  On the other hand, a recent Wall Street Journal analysis of vehicle traffic violation data in the city amplifies the challenges faced by law enforcement to prevent even the most outrageous offenders from racking-up violations, proving that such crackdowns have little effect.

City records of automated red-light and speed-zone camera violations reveal that the license plate of the car involved in that deadly crash had four citations for running red lights and another four for speeding in school zones between July 2016 and two weeks before the fatal Brooklyn crash.

City-wide during that same 19-month period, more than 19,000 license plates on passenger vehicles had at least eight moving violations for offenses such as running red lights, speeding in school zones, or both; and 36 license plates were issued 40 or more red-light and school-zone speeding violations. One passenger car with a New York plate returned a whopping 65 violations for speeding in a school zone. A New Jersey license plate had 28 red-light citations in the audit.

Why are these initiatives at greater vehicle safety having little effect?  State law is essentially toothless, because it actually makes it possible for serial violators to avoid punishment. Driving violations caught on a camera are tied to a vehicle, not to the driver. Also, one fine for camera tickets – assuming it is paid – is $50. And because it’s a violation caught on camera – the city doesn’t report the violation – or payment – to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. This means no penalty points go on the driver’s record, and that means the driver won’t lose their license for repeated violations.

The city can – and does – report unpaid tickets to the DMV. The state can suspend a vehicle registration for three unpaid red-light or speed-camera violations within an 18-month period; but the suspension stems from the failure to pay the violation, not the violations themselves.

The only time drivers are issued “real” tickets is when police stop the violator. Those convictions can appear on a driver’s record and result in penalty points on their license, hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of dollars in fines and surcharges and, most certainly, dramatic increases in their insurance rates.

If the driver in the Brooklyn school-zone accident had had actual convictions for any of her previous school zone speeding tickets, her license could have been revoked. Sadly, it wasn’t.

What are the Options for Change?

New York Police Department Deputy Commissioner for Legal Matters Lawrence Byrne said in a recent news conference that vehicle forfeiture is one penalty that the State Legislature might consider making a state law for situations in which a recidivist violator speeds in a school zone or runs red lights. He added that police officers can make an effort to investigate repeat traffic violations, “We just can’t take action without evidence of the person behind the wheel of the car.”

Pushback against camera laws has been part of the problem. This can explain some of the lack of success of camera traffic violation programs. Additionally, the fact that tag violations go to the registered owner of a car, not the driver, is a thorny problem the Legislature needs to work out. Raising the low ($50) fines to a more substantial amount could be the only way to get repeat violators’ attention without drastically altering the current laws.

If you’ve been hit by a speeder, red-light runner or any other negligent driver, we at Kaplan Lawyers PC are available to answer your legal questions. Contact us to arrange a free case evaluation.