Statement of Paul Steely White, Executive Director of Transportation Alternatives:
Governor Cuomo has done the right thing by vetoing deeply flawed legislation on penalties for hit-and-run drivers (S4747/A5266).
The intentions behind this legislation were good: to align the penalty for fleeing the scene of an injury crash with the penalty for Driving While Intoxicated.
Under current law, drivers who may have consumed alcohol and are then involved in a crash have a strong incentive to flee the scene, since the penalty for a DWI is currently more severe than the penalty for leaving the scene of a crash. Hit-and-run drivers leave behind victims whose medical treatment may be delayed with fatal consequences; leaving the scene also thwarts the investigation and evidence gathering.
The bills that Governor Cuomo has vetoed would have done almost nothing to address the perverse incentive that currently exists. The legislation provided for an arcane system of accountability that would have required the death of more than one person, a conviction of reckless driving, AND that the driver was unlicensed or had a prior hit-and-run conviction within the last 10 years. If the vetoed bill had gone into effect, it would never or rarely have been applied, and it would have taken years to undo through new legislation.
Governor Cuomo recognized the need for stronger and simpler legislation without the serious flaws of these bills. Even the sponsors, State Senator Funke and Assembly Member Thiele, supported the veto of their own bills. The legislature must now produce a version that aligns the penalty of leaving the scene of an injury-crash with the penalty for DWI, and which removes the perverse incentive under current law. We look forward to seeing Governor Cuomo sign a stronger bill in 2016.
In addition to the Governor, we thank Families for Safe Streets. We would also like to express our gratitude to the Nassau County District Attorney's office for leading the veto effort, and the support from the Bronx County District Attorney's Office, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the NYS STOP-DWI Association, and the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York.