Council passes Park Slope legislator’s bill to curb reckless drivers

Activists and politicians gathered in front of City Hall on Tuesday before the bill passed the City Council.
Photo by Todd Maisel

Kings County speed demons will soon be forced to take a driving safety course, or risk having their cars impounded, after Council passed a landmark piece of legislation on Tuesday. 

The bill — which was sponsored by Councilman Brad Lander (D—Park Slope) in the wake of a devastating 2018 car crash that killed two children — will force motorists who accrue 15 speed camera violations, or five red light violations within a 12-month span to complete a 90-minute road safety course, or else their vehicles will be booted. 

Colloquially known as the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, the bill will help prevent the most predictable traffic-related fatalities, Lander said at a Tuesday morning press conference at City Hall. 

“It’s intuitive that the most reckless drivers are disproportionately likely to injure or kill other New Yorkers, but it is not something yet that any city or any state is really focusing on,” the Councilman said.

The Park Slope legislator, and city comptroller candidate, has championed the idea since March 2018, when a woman with a history of unsafe driving fatally struck 1-year-old Joshua Lew and 4-year-old Abigail Blumenstein at the intersection of Ninth Street and Fifth Avenue. 

Blumenstein’s mother, Ruthie Ann Miles, later miscarried as a result of her injuries. 

“It really broke the hearts of our neighborhood,” said Lander.

Safe streets advocates, who have rallied behind the idea for years, celebrated its passage as a historic victory for the protection of pedestrians and cyclists.

“Driving is a privilege, not a right,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris. “This landmark bill, the first in the nation, will make New York City safer for everyone.”

But while the legislation marks a significant step in regulating unsafe drivers, the bill is a far more watered-down version of Lander’s initial proposal — which would have targeted drivers after just five speeding tickets. The bill is now expected to affect 5,000 motorists citywide every year.

The compromise legislation — which was ultimately rebranded the ‘Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program’ at the 11th hour — was necessary to ensure the city was not ensnared with legal challenges due to the tricky constitutional questions the bill raises, namely the fourth amendment which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the Department of Transportation.

Department Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said that the lengthy process leading up to the bill ensured that it would hold water against any legal challenges. 

“We worked with the Law Department to be sure we created all the procedures in this bill so that it will stand up to legal challenges,” she said. 

Even in the wake of the higher ticket threshold, activists and politicians alike hailed the successful passage of the bill, which comes on the heels of a particularly deadly 2019 for New York pedestrians and cyclists — where 205 traffic deaths were recorded citywide last year, including 29 cyclists, more than half of which were killed in Brooklyn alone. 

Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D—Manhattan), who is running for mayor, said the bill marked a major shift in the push for safer streets.

“The message is simple and clear: slow down, stop speeding,” said Council Speaker Corey Johnson (D—Manhattan). “Your car, your truck, your bus, whatever vehicle you are riding or driving could be a deadly force.” 

The bill passed by a 41-to-five margin in the council on Tuesday, and is expected to be signed by the Mayor.