Grand Jury Empaneled by D.A. Vance Recommends Extensive Legislative and Policy Fixes
New and Improved Laws and Evidence Procedures Would Empower Survivors, Enable Prosecutors to Bring More Cases, and Remove Privileges from Dangerous Drivers
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., New York State Senator Timothy M. Kennedy, and New York State Senator Brad Hoylman, along with Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets, today announced the introduction of a bill establishing a new article in the State’s Penal Law entitled “Vehicular Violence,” which establishes four new offenses including the class A misdemeanor “Death by Vehicle,” and class B misdemeanor “Serious Physical Injury by Vehicle.” The legislation was drafted by the D.A.’s Office on the recommendation of a New York State Grand Jury empaneled by D.A. Vance.
D.A. Vance said: “While other types of crime drop to historic lows across New York, we are experiencing an epidemic of vehicular violence that has killed 28 of our Manhattan neighbors year-to-date, and injured thousands more. Today, we are announcing a bill which fixes laws that are fundamentally broken, so that more drivers who injure or kill can be held accountable. The Vehicular Violence Accountability Act is our effort to make sure that on the criminal justice side, we are doing all that we can to support survivors and ensure that dangerous drivers face accountability. I would like to thank Senator Kennedy, Senator Hoylman, Transportation Alternatives, and Families for Safe Streets for their collaboration today and in the months ahead. And most of all, I want to thank the courageous survivors and loved ones who told our Grand Jury their stories and helped us make the legislation we are announcing today.”
Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “There is no question we need tougher laws to take dangerous drivers off the road and hold accountable drivers that kill or hurt their fellow New Yorkers. That’s why we welcome these new tools and look forward to working with leaders in Albany and District Attorney Vance to support this package and its goals. This is what Vision Zero is about—constantly building our approach to protect New Yorkers and save more lives.”
Senator Kennedy, Chair of the Transportation Committee, said: “Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that there were more pedestrians and cyclists killed last year in the United States than in any year since 1990. One death is one too many. Through the legislation we are announcing today alongside Manhattan District Attorney Vance, we’re ensuring that those who recklessly jeopardize the lives of pedestrians and cyclists when behind the wheel are held accountable and brought to justice, and that law enforcement have the tools they need to effectively prosecute those who fail to follow traffic laws designed to keep people safe.”
Senator Hoylman said: “In 2019, there have already been 171 traffic fatalities in New York City—and the number of victims continues to grow. As this new grand jury report from the District Attorney’s office shows, we need strong new state laws to hold drivers accountable for causing serious physical injury or death while behind the wheel. I look forward to working with Manhattan D.A. Vance, advocates like Transportation Alternatives, and my colleagues in the Legislature to craft new laws to protect pedestrians and make our streets safer.”
Devan Sipher, Manhattan crash victim and member of Families for Safe Streets, said: “On July 3, 2015, I was mowed down by a double-decker bus. The bus driver, like many other reckless drivers, faced no criminal consequences and is still driving on our streets today. In fact, he is still driving a bus. For far too long, reckless drivers who kill or seriously injure people like me have not been held accountable. I’m grateful for DA Vance’s report, which is a huge step in the right direction, but changes like those recommended in the report need to be more than words on paper. They must be rapidly implemented if we are to prevent the deaths and life-altering serious injuries from traffic crashes in New York City, now happening on average every two hours.”
Strengthening Offenses Applicable to Vehicular Collisions Resulting in Death or Serious Physical Injury
In April 2019, the D.A.’s Office empaneled a Grand Jury to address the epidemic of vehicular violence in New York City. The Grand Jury closely reviewed a series of fact patterns from collisions in Manhattan, and reviewed videos of crashes that resulted in death or serious injury. The Grand Jury also heard testimony from the families of victims killed by vehicular violence, as well as advocates, experts in the field, and government witnesses from multiple New York City and law enforcement agencies.
The Grand Jury’s primary recommendation was to create a new penal law article titled “Vehicular Violence” to better enable prosecutors to hold dangerous drivers responsible. Following this recommendation, the D.A.’s Office crafted the Vehicular Violence Accountability Act, which establishes the class A misdemeanor “Death by Vehicle,” and the class B misdemeanor, “Serious Physical Injury by Vehicle.” Under the bill, these crimes apply to incidents in which a driver fails to exercise due care or commits a traffic infraction (including speeding, disobeying traffic signals and signs, or using a cell phone while driving), and the driver’s actions seriously injure or kill another individual.
New York City’s Right of Way Law – which only applies in the five boroughs – is limited to collisions in which a driver fails to yield the right of way to pedestrians in the crosswalk, or bicyclists with the right of way, and does not extend to situations where the harm is caused by speeding, texting while driving, or other dangerous conduct. The Right of Way Law also makes no distinction between dangerous driving that causes another individual physical injury, serious physical injury, or death.
The new Vehicular Violence Accountability Act applies statewide, addresses gaps in existing laws, and accounts for aggravating factors by escalating offenses to a class E felony or A misdemeanor, respectively, when a driver has recent vehicular convictions, speeds more than 20 or more miles per hour above the legal speed limit, or violates more than one moving violation.
D.A. Vance also announced that, following the recommendation of the Grand Jury to strengthen the voice of vehicular violence victims, the D.A.’s Office will create a new Liaison position in its Witness Aid Services Unit. This Liaison will work with vehicular violence survivors and their families to connect them with services and counseling, and help them understand the criminal court process over the lifetime of their case.
The Grand Jury also offered the following recommendations to policymakers in New York State:
Toughen and expand sanctions imposed on reckless drivers.
- Amend the predicate felony statute to expand qualifying prior crimes to all felonies defined in the Vehicle & Traffic Law
- Provide for alternatives to incarceration for Vehicle & Traffic Law offenses
- Increase sanctions on a driver’s license
Improve the development and the admissibility of evidence.
- Broaden the application of Vehicle & Traffic Law §§ 1192.4 and 1192.4-a
- Mandate oral fluid testing at the crash scene
- Repeal the “two-hour rule”
- Broaden mandatory fingerprinting
- Exempt vehicular homicides from statutory speedy trial limitations
- Permit remote testimony for offenses under Vehicle & Traffic Law §511
Strengthen the voice of vehicular violence victims.
- Amend DMV regulations to permit the estate of a deceased victim to submit additional evidence at hearings, and to permit the victim’s family and friends to submit written impact statements
- Create a liaison position within the District Attorney’s Office’s Witness Aid Services Unit to assist vehicular violence victims
Remove dangerous drivers from New York State and City roadways.
- Reduce the per se blood alcohol content for intoxication
- Broaden the Business Integrity Commission’s regulatory authority
- Expand automated camera enforcement
- Improve oversight of medically impaired drivers
- Encourage the collection and analysis of more data
- Incentivize a safe driving culture through education
The full report can be read here.