A new bill in the New York City Council would remove the New York Police Department’s authority to investigate car crashes, vesting that power instead with the city’s Department of Transportation. According to StreetsBlog, the bill is supported by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson but opposed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
In a statement to the publication, Johnson said that the Department of Transportation “could operate in a better way,” and that the transfer of power would professionalize the investigation of car crashes and traffic incidents. In a statement arguing against the bill, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in part: “I want to see stronger penalties for people who hurt or kill other people with their automobile. I still think we have farther to go on that front, particularly in state law. I want to see more stringent investigations that lead to consequences… my goal is to just do better with crash investigations, but I think NYPD and DOT both have a role to play.”
StreetsBlog, which argues the New York Police Department is not devoted to street safety as the mayor claims, took a number of issues with the mayor’s statement (which is available in full in the report). It notes that while NYPD investigations of car crashes contain a criminal justice element, few drivers are ever charged in connection with pedestrian or cyclist injuries, “very few who kill are held accountable,” and the Department of Transportation could bring charges as well. StreetsBlog also argues that police justices may not be necessary in combating car crashes, and investigators from any city agency could issue summons to alleged offenders.
With respect to a comment by the Mayor that he wishes for car crash investigations to bring about “structural change” in the city, StreetsBlog argues that this is “specious,” noting that the NYPD testified against a 2019 legislative effort “to expand the Collision Investigation Squad so that, at the very least, it could investigate more than 200 to 300 crashes per year (there are roughly 45,000 injury-causing crashes in a typical year in New York City, or something like 124 per day).”
Given lawmakers’ and popular support for the new bill, StreetsBlog forecasts that it will survive the mayor’s opposition. If the bill becomes law, the report notes, it will require Department of Transportation inspectors to analyze crash sites as well as crashes at any location “with similar street design or infrastructure citywide,” using this analysis to recommend “safety-maximizing changes to street design or infrastructure at the location of such crash or citywide.”
More information on the bill, and the political struggle surrounding it, is available via StreetsBlog.