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Drivers Killed 21 Cyclists Last Year, But Only Two Got Arrested

The Gothamist: Drivers Killed 21 Cyclists Last Year, But Only Two Got Arrested

It's appallingly easy for drivers to get away with murder in NYC, as we've previously reported, and today Alex Goldmark at Transportation Nation tries to understand why this is so. According to the NYPD, there were 21 cyclist fatalities in 2011, but just two drivers were arrested in the wake of the deadly crashes. And on average, nearly forty percent of drivers who kill pedestrians or cyclists walk away without even getting a traffic ticket. Goldmark asked all five District Attorneys why so few drivers face criminal charges, and Joe McCormack, an ADA in the Bronx, gave him quite an interesting quote:

We as a society have chosen to drive these big cars. And we also as a society have chosen not to criminalize every single small mistake that just has a dramatic consequence because you're driving a car. There are times where the factual situation that is presented to us doesn’t rise to a crime. And it’s important to realize that the reason it doesn’t rise to a crime is that society has made that decision that it doesn’t want it to be a crime.

But while McCormack is blaming "society," some City Councilmembers are blaming the NYPD. New York State requires a thorough investigation in the event of "serious physical injury," including "serious protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ." Yet the NYPD's understaffed Accident Investigation Squad only conducts an investigation when the victim is dead or expected to die. So City 

Councilmember Stephen Levin has proposed legislation that would require the NYPD to investigate when there is serious injury, not just when someone is killed. Because that's the freaking law.

Asked about the NYPD's unwillingness or inability to prosecute drivers with blood on their hands, Transportation Alternatives spokesman Michael Murphy tells us, "The NYPD complains that it doesn't have enough resources to properly enforce traffic laws—but it's not even effectively prioritizing the resources it does have. Speeding is the leading factor in fatal crashes but, in 2011, the NYPD issued four times as many tickets for tinted windows as for speeding!

"Speeding is a serious crime and needs to be treated that way. You have an 80 percent chance of surviving a crash with a driver who is complying with the city’s 30 mph speed limit. But when a driver is traveling at just 10 mph over the speed limit, your chance of surviving a crash drops to just 30 percent. Speeding drivers are breaking the law and putting your life at serious risk--the police need to take that seriously and hold those drivers accountable."

As we reported in February, the NYPD also issued more tickets to cyclists than truck drivers last year, and NYPD reps even cited this stat in the City Council hearing as if it were an achievement. And last week NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly instructed the NYPD to start taking detailed records of cyclist-on-pedestrian accidents. In 2010, Kelly personally assisted the victim of just such an accident, so we get why he wants to make it a priority. Maybe someday he'll personally see a driver run someone over, and he'll order his troops to make that a priority too!