Senator Farley Reports Senate Passes Dangerous Driver Legislation

Hugh T. Farley

April 29, 2005

The busy summer traveling season is almost here and this is typically a time when there are more motorists on the road and a chance for more accidents.

Aggressive driving has emerged as a leading traffic safety concern both nationally and in New York State. According to New York State statistics, aggressive driving behaviors -- unsafe lane changes, tailgating, failure to yield the right-of-way, disregard of traffic lights -- are a contributing factor in 59 percent of all crashes and 60 percent of fatal crashes where a cause is attributed. Similarly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported that one-third of all motor vehicle crashes and two-thirds of fatalities in the country are attributable to aggressive driving behaviors.

The New York State Senate has passed legislation that would crack down on these accident crimes and deter such aggressive and irresponsible behavior, sometimes known as "road rage."

The Senate passed two bills in relation to the crime of leaving the scene of an accident. Senate bill S.3419 would enhance the charges for leaving the scene of a deadly accident to a Class D felony, and require the automatic suspension of a driver's license when an individual is charged with this crime. Current law does not adequately punish the considerable harm caused by drivers who kill a person by operation of their motor vehicle, and then flee the scene to avoid detection. The existing charge is only an E felony, and currently the driver's license may be suspended or revoked only upon final disposition of the charges. Senate bill S.4584 would increase the criminal penalties for leaving the scene of an accident when someone is killed, to up to seven years in prison. Under the provision of the bill, jail time and fines would be increased for all levels of leaving the scene violations, which include an injury or death.

Another piece of legislation (S.3374) would provide that consecutive sentences must be imposed on someone who commits two or more criminal offenses through a single act that causes death or physical injury to more than one person.

Senate bill S.3420 would strengthen existing penalties to punish motorists who injure or kill people as a result of dangerous and unlawful driving. The bill would create a new class D felony for vehicular manslaughter in the third degree. This crime is committed when a driver kills another person and either: knows his or her license is suspended; or is acting in violation of certain traffic laws and already has two or more traffic violations in the last 18 months; or is impaired by the use of alcohol. In addition, the bill would raise vehicular manslaughter in the second degree from a Class D to a Class C felony. It also provides that a person may be charged with this crime if a death is caused occurs as a result of driving while intoxicated.

Current State law does not permit the fingerprinting of someone who is convicted of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. Unfortunately, this means that officials may not be aware of a person's previous convictions. Fingerprinting will also help DMV prevent such violators from obtaining a new license under a false name. Senate bill S.3418 would require fingerprinting of these defendants to ensure that they don't evade the law. In addition, the bill raises penalties for first, second and third degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle to properly reflect the seriousness of this crime; reduces the number of prior suspensions needed to prove the first degree offense; and establishes the legal presumption that a person with three or more suspensions imposed on separate dates knows that his or her license is suspended.

The Senate also passed legislation to curb aggressive driving and to stem the problem of speeding by unlicensed motorists. Senate bill S.852 would establish the crime of aggravated aggressive driving. This offense is defined as aggressive driving resulting in either serious physical injury or death to another person, or property damage in excess of $1,500. Aggravated aggressive driving would be classified as a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $800 to $1,500 a term of imprisonment of up to one year or both, and suspension of driving privileges for one year.

These bills have been sent to the Assembly for their review and consideration. In the meantime, be safe this summer and drive carefully.