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Should we continue to push for tougher traffic laws in NYC?

Mayor de Blasio's "Vision Zero" initiative is a frequent topic of discussion in the media and on this blog. It is perhaps the most comprehensive and ambitious traffic safety plan that New York City has seen in the last several generations. And while critics may be skeptical that New York can truly reduce traffic accidents and fatalities to zero, it is certainly a goal worth striving for.

One problem that VZ proponents want to address is the fact that many drivers face no criminal consequences for causing serious injuries or death to pedestrians and other drivers. Traditionally, prosecutors in New York have not charged dangerous and negligent drivers with crimes unless they were driving drunk or fled the scene after the crash. Negligence and inattention have been treated like run-of-the-mill problems that sometimes don't even result in citations or fines.

Thankfully, this is beginning to change. Failure to yield has already been changed to a misdemeanor offense. And safety advocates are pushing for other prosecutorial measures, including suspension of a driver's license after serious offenses.

There is strong precedent showing that getting tough on driving offenses can improve driver behavior. There was a time when drunk driving was viewed somewhere in between socially acceptable and "maybe not the safest choice." Starting in the 1980s, safety advocates have been pushing hard to change public opinion and laws. While drunk driving is still a problem, rates of drunk driving and related fatalities have dropped significantly.

Considering the population density of New York and the sheer number of vehicles and pedestrians, it stands to reason that anything less than full attention and due care makes a crash highly likely. Why should dangerous drivers be given the benefit of the doubt that the crash they caused was unforeseeable and unavoidable?

Source: The New York Times, "Safety Advocates Want Harsher Penalties for New York’s Drivers," Emma G. Fitzsimmons, March 2, 2015

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