NYS Passes Bill Exempting Hatzalah Vehicles on Calls From Camera Violations

Reuvain Borchardt and Rabbi Binyomin Zev Karman

June 01, 2022

Originally published in Hamodia on June 01, 2022.

A bill passed in the New York State Senate (S08031-A) and the New York State Assembly (A08933A) will exempt Hatzalah vehicles who are answering emergency calls from violations captured on red light and speed cameras.

In the past, when a Hatzalah vehicle was caught on camera passing a red light or using excessive speed, the vehicle owner was treated like any other cited motorist, and would likely be presumed guilty of the violation unless he could prove his innocence. This bill would treat Hatzalah members vehicles the same as other ambulances and other official emergency vehicles where the member has a presumption of innocence when responding to a call.

In addition, in the past the Hatzalah members often faced administrative law judges who were unfamiliar with Hatzalah protocol, and would question a member why he was responding several minutes after the call went out and was answered, and dismissing the claim of the driver that he was a second or third responder, a Basic Life Support (BLS) or Advanced Life Support (ALS) who was heading to the call to assist those who were attending to the party in need.

When a Hatzalah member received a camera summons in the past, he would forward it to Central Hatzalah who would do their best to get it dismissed. While they were often successful, in cases where they were not, Hatzalah offered to pay the fine for the member, but many dedicated Hatzalah volunteers did not want the organization to lose money on their behalf and paid the tickets themselves. Some members would have hundreds of dollars of violations per month, and often racked up multiple violations on a single call as they passed by several cameras on the way to the call which recorded them as traversing several red lights or speeding.

“You can’t imagine the stack of tickets that we have,” Rabbi Yehiel Kalish, CEO Central Hatzalah, told Hamodia.

In order to get this bill passed, Hatzalah made a video which described how the members respond to life saving calls on a daily basis. Under the new bill, a member who receives a ticket will send it to Hatzalah, which will then will send in an affidavit with the call sheet to show that the member was traveling on a call at the time of the violation. The member will then be treated with a presumption of innocence.

Several years ago, the NYS Attorney General wrote an opinion which stated that Hatzalah members who were registered should be presumed innocent. This law now codifies that AG statement into law, and all personal vehicles while going on calls will have the same legal status as ambulance regarding all traffic related laws.

“We at Hatzalah are grateful to our elected officials for recognizing the importance of this legislation,” Rabbi Kalish told Hamodia. “Once Senator Felder and Assemblyman Eichenstein understood that these violations were preventing members from going on calls, they put all their efforts towards producing a good bill that will earn the Governor’s signature in the near future.”

“Every single one of us is grateful to the members of Hatzalah for their selfless, lifesaving work. They are heroes! 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, without a break, nothing stops them from rushing to help in an emergency,” said Sen. Simcha Felder, a sponsor of the bill. “Who would have thought that with all they sacrifice, one of the biggest challenges they face here in New York City is the rising number of camera tickets that generate piles of violations on a daily basis? I am so gratified that, together with my colleagues in Albany, today we were able to codify a process of presumed innocence to help the Hatzalah volunteers who help us every day.”

“When it comes to saving a life, every minute counts. That’s why it’s so important that our heroic Hatzalah volunteers reach patients as quickly and efficiently as possible, without having to worry about monetary fines,” Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, who sponsored the bill in the Assembly, told Hamodia. “I am delighted that my colleagues at the state legislature overwhelmingly supported my bill recognizing that emergency medical first responders should be allowed to operate without concern of traffic violations.”