A new law that seeks to curb dangerous driving in the city has been on the books since February, but the first group of violation-qualifying drivers just completed the mandatory safety course last month.
It’s officially called the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program and it will apply to drivers that have racked up five red light tickets or are caught speeding in a school zone 15 times going back to October 2020. The legislation, introduced in 2018, was prompted after a driver sped through a red light in Park Slope and killed two children. The children's mothers were also injured, and one, who was pregnant, lost her unborn child. It turned out the driver had 12 traffic violations in the two years before the crash.
The city believes more than 5,000 vehicles meet that threshold and will be required to complete the safety program. The first round of letters went out in early November to 160 people.
Safe streets advocates were furious about how slowly the program has rolled out and believe the September death of a 3-month old girl being pushed in a stroller could have been avoided if the driver had been targeted for the program sooner. However, a subsequent investigation by Streetsblog found that the driver had completed a similar, court-ordered driver safety program, calling into question the efficacy of programs like this to stop the most dangerous drivers on the road.
Still, safe streets advocates argue drivers that complete the course are 40% less likely to get tickets for reckless driving afterward.
The required course consists of a 90-minute presentation and screening of a film that was created for the Taxi and Limousine Commission in 2015 called “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here.”
Kim Wiley-Schwartz, the assistant commissioner for education and outreach at the city’s Department of Transportation who is in charge of the curriculum for the program, said the program is designed to teach drivers how driving even a little over the speed limit can be so dangerous.
“We also really focus in this project on the cues and clues on the street so that people who drive without understanding the impacts of driving 11 miles over the speed limit can get a real understanding of where and when these crashes are so injurious or fatal, '' Wiley-Schwartz said. “And really trying to make a personal connection for people between their driving behavior and how it affects others.”
Wiley-Schwartz said the program consists of explaining to drivers some basic mechanics of the road--how driving on a highway differs from driving in a densely packed city, and what to watch for when making turns. But ultimately, she hopes the 15- minute video will appeal to their hearts.
The video features five different families who lost someone due to a reckless driver.
“He’s a driver that didn’t make careful conscious decisions.” Amy Liao, the mother of 3-year old Allison Liao, said in the video.
Greg Thompson Jr.’s 16-year old sister Renee Thompson was killed when a truck driver made a turn into a crosswalk.
“Vehicles are weapons that can be just as destructive as a gun can be,” Thompson said. “If the driver that hit my sister was more considerate, if he yielded, he just stopped and paused for a second before he made the turn then maybe my sister would be there today.”
It remains to be seen what impact the program will have on reckless driving in the city where there was an uptick in reckless driving this year. There were 3,853,581 tickets issued for speeding in school zones so far this year, and 491,264 tickets for running a red light.