Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez renewed his call yesterday for two bills intended to hold hit-and-run drivers accountable following a hit-and-run in midtown on Monday which left a man in critical condition at Bellevue Hospital.
A van driver ran over a 51-year-old pedestrian's head after he collapsed on 36th Street at around 11:30 a.m. on Monday. (The NY Post reports that the victim was identified as a local barber.) Police are still searching for the driver of the black Ford van, who quickly fled the scene.
This is the ninth hit-and-run incident in the few short weeks of 2017, a spate that has left four dead and led safe streets advocates to question the efficacy of Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero campaign. While motorcyclist and car-occupant deaths dropped dramatically last year according to City Hall, advocacy groups have taken note that pedestrian and cyclist deaths have been on the rise.
As City Council transportation chair, Rodriguez is pushing for increased resources and enforcement.
"This is unacceptable," Rodriguez said at a City Hall press conference yesterday, comparing the state of the city's hit-and-run enforcement system to that of his home country of the Dominican Republic. "It is like when Joe Biden came to LaGuardia and said, 'How can we have an airport which is similar to a third world nation?'"
Earlier this month, Rodriguez introduced legislation to create a hit-and-run reward fund with cash rewards up to $1,000 for information related to an incident that leads to arrest, prosecution or conviction, as well as an alert system, similar to AMBER Alert, that would notify all New Yorkers every time a hit-and-run incident occurs. Similar alert systems already exist in Los Angeles and other California cities.
According to Rodriguez, the alert system would work in a similar manner to the AMBER system, which uses numerous forms of communication, from radio and highway alert signs to social media and SMS text alerts, to broadcast the notice as well as pertinent details of the abductor's vehicle. However, California's "Yellow Alert" system differs from AMBER in that it doesn't broadcast the message to cell phones in the affected area.
There are approximately 40,000 hit-and-run incidents in the city each year, according to Rodriguez, the majority of which involve only property damage. As such, broadcasting every incident might prove an overwhelming and unnecessary task.
Rodriguez's office clarified in an email that they would "likely start with crashes that cause serious injury or death." The city estimates that 4,000 hit-and-run incidents result in injury to an individual annually, and that, on average, one fatal hit-and-run incident occurs every week, with 39 fatal incidents occurring in 2016.
Rodriguez and others also want to change current law that makes a hit-and-run a lesser crime than a drunk driving accident, a "loophole" which incentivizes drivers to flee the scene, especially when inebriated. Causing a hit-and-run injury to an individual is classified as a misdemeanor with a maximum of one year in prison and up to a $1,000 fine. (If this is a repeat hit-and-run offense, the highest sentence a driver can get is four years in prison and up to $2,500 in fines.) In comparison, vehicular manslaughter while under the influence carries up to a 15 year prison sentence.
Julia Kite, Policy and Research Manager at advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, took a hardline stance against the excuses and pleas of hit-and-run drivers.
"Let's be clear: what happened in Midtown is a crime. It doesn't matter what a pedestrian was doing prior to the crash," she insisted. "This should be a matter of basic human decency and respect for the lives of others. But because the hit-and-run epidemic in our city shows that isn't enough, we support Councilmember Rodriguez's call for cash rewards for information that leads to the apprehension of hit-and-run drivers."