Statement of Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives:
As New York City’s leading traffic safety advocacy group, we are horrified by the news that nine people have been killed in traffic crashes in the first ten days of 2017, seven of them biking and walking, including three in Brooklyn on Monday alone.
Of those nine deaths, seven occurred in Mayor de Blasio’s own “Vision Zero Priority” corridors or areas, previously-identified high-crash locations, where the City must allocate funding for street redesign during the upcoming budgeting process. This is particularly essential in light of a recent decision from the State’s highest court, which ruled that the City can be held liable in connection with crashes on streets where officials have failed to adequately study and implement traffic calming measures.
We are especially outraged by reports of NYPD investigators exonerating motorists at crash scenes, effectively serving as prosecutor, judge and jury in cases that should at the very least be referred to the district attorney. For example, in yesterday’s death of 85-year-old Rafael Nieves in Williamsburg, police determined after interviewing witnesses and viewing video that the box truck driver was unaware he had hit anyone when he left the crash scene. In another case, officers declined to charge a driver who claimed his leg had become stiff and locked against the accelerator when he struck and killed Marlon Palacios, a 43-year-old father of two young children. Such dubious claims of defense are for a court to decide, not an officer at the scene.
As a key agency on the Vision Zero task force, the NYPD has a duty to deter dangerous driving, conduct thorough crash investigations and bring some level of justice to the families of New Yorkers killed and seriously injured in these preventable incidents.
Together with Families for Safe Streets, a group of New Yorkers who have lost loved ones or been injured in traffic crashes, we have requested a meeting with Police Commissioner James O’Neill to express our concerns.
We want to see the NYPD bring its standards for arrest in vehicular offenses in line with other forms of violence. We also demand an end to victim-blaming by officers who share information with the media while crash investigations are ongoing. We ask for the commissioner’s personal support for allowing speed enforcement cameras near every New York City school. Finally, we want the expansion and reform of the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad to investigate the more than 3,000 serious injury crashes that happen each year across the five boroughs.
While we have been encouraged by some recent NYPD initiatives, such as increased ticketing for failure to yield and speeding, we remain dismayed over the lack of progress in critical areas.
The NYPD will participate in a Vision Zero oversight hearing at the City Council on January 26th, and we call on officials to address these issues at that time. We can and will not rest until the epidemic of traffic violence is treated seriously in the enforcement component of Vision Zero, so that no more New Yorkers or their loved ones will have to know the loss experienced by members of Families for Safe Streets.