Streetsblog: Weak State Law Protects Unlicensed Drivers Who Kill

Originally published in Streetsblog on October 09, 2019.

Some state lawmakers want to close this nonsensical loophole by increasing the penalties for unlicensed drivers who kill. Under legislation proposed by Queens State Senator Michael Gianaris, drivers could face up to seven in prison if they kill someone while driving with a suspended license.

The higher penalties would only be applicable to drivers whose licenses are suspended because of prior driving infractions, like another crash where they were proven to be at fault, or speeding or going through a red light, not for merely failing to pay a parking ticket or child support, according to Gianaris’s office.

The distinction between punishing drivers who actively choose to get behind the wheel knowing they shouldn’t and others who may lose their license for non-driving infractions is the key to improving the current law and getting reckless drivers off the road, said Amy Cohen of Families For Safe Streets.

“It is horrific that drivers who lose their license because of previous dangerous driving choose to get behind the wheel anyway and then kill someone. This is not an accident. These reckless drivers need to be held accountable. If current laws do not permit that, then we need to change the law to do so,” said Cohen.

The Senate unanimously passed the Gianaris bill last April, but it now sits in the Assembly’s codes committee — which must pass it soon to make streets safer, said the lawmaker.

“Too many deaths and serious injuries occur at the hands of dangerous drivers. We need to prevent these needless tragedies by building safer streets and providing the tools to keep dangerous drivers off the road,” Gianaris said.

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