Senate Okays Dangerous Driver Legislation

James L. Seward

April 19, 2005

The New York State Senate has approved a package of legislation designed to crack down on dangerous drivers who injure or kill innocent victims, Senator James L. Seward said today. The bills would make our streets more safe by increasing criminal penalties for dangerous drivers, especially those who run over pedestrians and leave the scene of the accident. In addition, the senate passed legislation that addresses aggressive driving and the problem of speeding by unlicensed motorists.

Senate action on the dangerous driver legislation was announced at a Capitol news conference today. Members of the senate majority were joined by Loretta and Christopher Papandrea, family of Guiseppe Papandrea of Staten Island, who was struck and killed by a hit and run driver as he crossed a Brooklyn street in January 2002; and by Amy Plantz of Schodack, whose son, 16 year old Christopher Bascom, was killed by a hit and run driver in November 2003.

"Throughout the state, but especially in New York City, there are so many cases where dangerous drivers kill or injure pedestrians and leave the scene of the accident, some get a slap on the wrist and some are not even charged," Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno said. "I commend Amy Plantz for her courage to fight for tougher laws on dangerous drivers. The legislation the senate will act on today would get dangerous drivers off the road and ensure justice for the families of their victims. While there is one bill that I expect the Assembly to pass, all the bills in this package should be enacted to address the problem of dangerous drivers."

S.4584,agreed uponwith the state assembly,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.

In addition, the senate passed a five-bill package, submitted by Governor Pataki, in response to the growing number of instances where innocent pedestrians and bystanders have been killed by dangerous drivers.

The following is a list of some of the hit and run accidents where dangerous drivers have claimed lives of innocent victims:

> In November 2003, 16 year old Christopher Bascom of Schodack was left dying by the side of the road after being hit by a pickup truck. The driver, who had been drinking, never stopped;

> In January 2002, Giuseppe Papandrea, 61, of Staten Island, was struck and killed by a hit and run driver as he crossed a Brooklyn street. Mr. Papandrea was heading to his daughter’s Dyker Heights home for dinner after finishing a shift at a Flatbush restaurant. Mr. Papandrea left behind a wife and six grown children;

> On April 10, 2005, 10 year old Ilda Ujkaj was riding in the back seat of a car with her family, coming home from a wedding in Queens and was hit by a drunk driver, leaving her in a coma and her cousin badly injured;

> 17 year old Gary Dixie of Camillus was killed by a hit and run driver on January 31, 2003;

> 26 year old Peter Hornbeck of Watertown was killed by a speeding, hit and run driver in Manhattan on January 10, 2004;

> 44 year old Cesar Lorenzana, a father of four, was killed by a hit and run driver in Amityville on November 6, 2004;

> 11 year old Michael Vasquez-Moore was crossing a street in Staten Island when he was run over and killed by a woman who was driving without a license, on May 28, 2004. The charges against the driver were dismissed;

> On November 5, 2003, 15 year old Guilia Lewis of Queens was killed by a hit and run driver;

> 75 year old Jack Geizhals of Queens was killed crossing a street in Long Beach, in July 2003, by a driver who left the scene of the accident.;

> In November 2003, 13 year old Christopher Carter was killed while riding his bike, when he was struck by a car. The driver was not charged.

The "Dangerous Driver" legislative package includes the following:

Consecutive Sentences
Legislation 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.

This bill (S.3374) would address a case in Brooklyn in which an off-duty police officer was convicted of driving while intoxicated and causing the deaths of four members of the same family. Current law would not permit consecutive sentences to be imposed upon this defendant.
"It is time that we make the laws work for the victims and their families and no longer the criminals. Each individual life is precious and criminals should be held accountable for each death they cause," Senator Golden said. "New York’s sentencing laws should reflect that fact in the form of consecutive sentencing for it will serve as a deterrent to those who wish to take a life and destroy a family. Our laws must reflect the value of human life."

Punishing Dangerous Drivers
S.3420would 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.

"It just common sense to harshly punish dangerous drivers who carelessly put innocent New Yorkers in harm's way," said Senator Thomas W. Libous (R-C/Binghamton). "That's why, under Senator Bruno's leadership, we're leading the way to put these criminals where they belong: behind bars."
This crime is committed when a driver kills another person and: knows his or her license is suspended; or is acting in violation of certain traffic laws, and 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 death occurs as a result of driving while intoxicated.

Fleeing an Accident, License Suspension
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 his or her license may be suspended or revoked only upon final disposition of the charges.

Automatic License Revocation
Legislation would require the automatic revocation of a driver’s license, when the individual operates a vehicle in violation of the legal "rules of the road," and causes serious physical injury or death.
"Those who drive dangerously in the State of New York must be punished to the fullest extent of the law, and this bill sends that message," said Senator Spano. "The legislation keeps New York's highways safe, and gives judges and prosecutors the tools that they need to detect and punish the unlawful drivers who threaten safety."

In addition, the bill (S.3416) requires a driver whose license was revoked pursuant to this section to successfully complete an accident prevention course that has been approved by the Department of Motor Vehicles prior to obtaining a new license.

Repeat Dangerous Drivers
Current state law does not permit the fingerprinting of someone who is convicted of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. As a result, someone arrested for a second offense does not have the crime elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony. This bill (S.3418), sponsored by Senator Joseph Robach (R, Rochester), would require fingerprinting of these defendants to ensure that they don’t evade the appropriate punishment.

"This legislation would close serious loopholes that have allowed dangerous drivers to stay on New York’s roads," said Senator Robach. "This plan will give prosecutors and judges the tools they need to find and punish unlawful drivers who threaten the safety of our motorists."
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 from ten to five; and establishes a presumption that a person with three or more suspensions imposed on separate dates knows that his or her license is suspended.

Aggressive Driving and Unlicensed Motorists Who Speed
The senate will also act today on legislation to curb aggressive driving and to stem the problem of speeding by unlicensed motorists.

Legislation 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-$1,500, a term of imprisonment of up to one year or both, and suspension of driving privileges for one year.

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, etc. -- are a contributing factor in 59% of all crashes and 60% 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. In fact, five states (Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Delaware) have already adopted special aggressive driving laws in response to this finding.

In addition, the senate will act on legislation (S.423) to address the problem of speeding by unlicensed motorists. This bill establishes the offense of speeding without a license, and defines this crime as a class A misdemeanor punishable by a sliding scale of fines and/or imprisonment, based upon how much the applicable speed limit was exceeded.

"Even the most responsible motorists can never completely avoid encounters with reckless drivers," said Caesar Trunzo. "National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics show that one-third of auto accidents and two-thirds of fatalities involve aggressive, irresponsible driving behaviors. These bills will give law enforcement and the courts more muscle for protecting travelers and keeping New York’s roadways safe."