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Will Pedestrian Accident Epidemic Change New York Law?

Brooklyn crosswalk accident

The Wall Street Journal published a story on the epidemic of fatal pedestrian accidents focused on the startling reluctance on the NYPD to bring charges against those who kill with their vehicles. In both New York City and the state, drivers who cause a death seldom face criminal charges. The reason: The laws of New York only apply to drivers who are drunk or on drugs. According to legal experts, this is one of the narrowest standards in the United States.

The result: Drivers in the state were charged with vehicular manslaughter or aggravated vehicular homicide in five percent of the 4,801 fatal accidents between 2008 and 2012. In NYC, drivers who caused fatalities were charged at a similar rate.

Given the recent rash of pedestrian deaths, it is not surprising that 54 percent of vehicle fatalities in New York City between 2008 and 2012 involve pedestrians. And this percentage has recently spiked: Last year the number of pedestrian fatalities rose 23.5 percent, from 136 in 2013 to 168 in 2013.

Since 2008, the number of people killed in motor vehicle accidents has remained relatively steady in New York City and in the state. But pedestrian fatalities in the city climbed 23.5% last year, from 136 in 2012 to 168 in 2013, according to police department data.

Although impaired drivers are most likely to face charges after causing a death, there are ways to charge sober drivers - negligent homicide, manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter. However, the standard of proof in these cases is much higher than in vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide.

Safe streets advocates have been calling for years without result for changes in how fatalities are handled. However, in the wake of the recent increase in pedestrian fatalities, a shift may be taking place in the city. The new mayor appointed a task force to address the issue of pedestrian deaths. The NYPD started investigating every fatality and serious injury last August.

Although efforts have been made to change the state laws, city legislators doubt that change will come soon. Voters and legislators upstate are less likely to interfere with the car culture that is much stronger outside of NYC's five boroughs.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "'Epidemic' of Fatal Crashes," Feb. 10, 2014.