Despite increased public awareness, extra enforcement from the NYPD, and the attention of numerous elected officials from Mayor de Blasio on down, reckless driving remains an intractable problem in New York. Last year, according to NYPD data obtained by the Wall Street Journal, pedestrian fatalities in NYC rose 23.5%, increasing from 136 in 2012 to 168 in 2013. But the increase in fatalities has not resulted in a corresponding increase in criminal charges, and in most crashes causing death or serious injury, drivers aren't prosecuted. The problem, it seems, is New York State law.

In 2009, New York adopted one of the toughest drunk driving laws in the country, but drivers still face little or no consequences if they kill someone while driving sober. That's because New York's vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter laws have some of the narrowest standards for conviction in the nation. Out of 1,298 fatal crashes in NYC between 2008 and 2012, just 66 drivers were arrested under vehicular homicide laws—about 5%. The Journal is the latest publication to examine the ease with which New York drivers get away with murder; from an article published today:

It is possible to charge sober drivers involved in deadly crashes with other crimes, such as negligent homicide, manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter. But that rarely happens, legal experts said, because those statutes require a far higher degree of culpability than the vehicular manslaughter and vehicular homicide requirements that a motorist be drunk or on drugs.

Many defense lawyers oppose broadening the laws. "Just because we have an unfortunate accident doesn't mean we want to brand everybody a felon and a criminal for the rest of their lives," said Joseph Gentile, a Nassau County lawyer. Mr. Gentile successfully argued a 2008 case before the New York Court of Appeals. The state's highest court dismissed a negligent homicide verdict against a limousine driver who drove the wrong way on a Belt Parkway ramp in Brooklyn. As the driver tried to correct his mistake by making a U-turn, a motorcyclist slammed into the limousine and was killed.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the driver's decision to make a U-turn "does not rise to the level of 'morally blameworthy' conduct required to establish that the defendant committed the crime of criminally negligent homicide."

That standard, "moral blameworthiness," also applies to manslaughter or aggravated manslaughter charges in fatal crashes. It means that prosecutors must prove a motorist knew he or she was driving recklessly or immorally to win a conviction—a difficult task, said Maureen McCormick, an assistant district attorney in Nassau County who specializes in crash cases.

State Senator Michael Gianaris, a Democrat from Queens, introduced legislation in January that would make it a felony for drivers who drive with suspended licenses and kill or seriously injure someone in the process. But Gianaris doubts the bill will become law, because "city residents are more likely to support the changes than people who live in suburbs or upstate, where the car culture is stronger," the Journal reports.