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Why do negligent drivers in NYC rarely face criminal charges?

It is common practice to refer to automobile crashes as “accidents.” But is this really accurate? It seems as though the majority of crashes in New York City are caused by inattention, aggressive driving, speeding and other behaviors that are entirely avoidable.

By calling these crashes “accidents,” we may be giving at-fault drivers a free pass to continue their negligent behavior. Perhaps this is why an NYC bicyclist or pedestrian is killed every 48 hours in a traffic accident.

Unfortunately, it is extremely rare for drivers to face criminal charges or to even be cited for careless driving in the wake of a fatal accident. According to a New York Times opinion piece written by a woman named Dana M. Lerner, drivers who cause fatal pedestrian or bicycle accidents are cited for careless driving less than 1 percent of the time. Criminal charges are even rarer.

Lerner writes from personal experience with tragedy. In January, her 9-year-old son Cooper was struck and killed by a taxi driver as crossed the street with his dad. They were in the crosswalk and had the right of way. The taxi driver was not criminally charged despite videotape evidence and witness statements confirming that the he was not paying attention and failed to yield.

Ms. Lerner’s heartbreaking loss has led to “Cooper’s Law,” which was one of 11 bills signed as part of the mayor’s “Vision Zero” initiative. The law “authorizes the Taxi and Limousine Commission to immediately revoke the licenses of drivers involved in serious crashes, pending an investigation,” according to Ms. Lerner.

Cooper’s law is evidence of some progress, but the fact remains that negligent drivers who cause fatal accidents are rarely held accountable by the criminal justice system. For this and many other reasons, it is important for the families of victims to pursue justice through a civil lawsuit whenever possible.

Personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits can provide at least some sense of justice by helping victims and families pursue compensation from at-fault drivers. If you have been injured or a loved one has been killed in a car accident caused by a negligent or inattentive driver, an experienced personal injury attorney can help you understand your rights and options.

Source: The New York Times, “Why Drivers Get Away With Murder,” Dana M. Lerner, Sept. 29, 2014

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