On the morning of December 10, 2009, two seventeen-year-olds were walking to school in Brooklyn when they were struck by an intoxicated driver operating his vehicle with a suspended license. One of the teens was critically injured when the driver ran a red light and drove straight into the crosswalk. In the aftermath of the accident, many witnesses and local residents complained about the lack of a crossing guard at the intersection. Recent trends in pedestrian injury by drivers operating vehicles with suspended licenses however, suggest that a crossing guard would likely not have deterred the intoxicated driver.
The Recent Rise in Pedestrian Accidents Caused by Unlicensed Drivers
The December 10 accident occurred just days after three pedestrians were killed in two separate hit-and-runs by drivers operating with suspended licenses in New York. A 26-year-old with at least 29 license suspensions on his record, since 2006, hit and killed an elderly pedestrian couple as they walked to Thanksgiving mass. 48 hours later, a woman was struck and killed in the Bronx, while walking with her fiancée, by a driver with four prior license suspensions on his record. These casualties are only the latest in a trend cited by the Department of Motor Vehicles which has noted that ten percent of drivers currently causing traffic accidents in New York City are operating with suspended licenses at the time of their accidents.
A Call for Action
Recently, the pro-pedestrian, bicycle and public transit group “Transportation Alternatives” organized an outcry for legal reform concerning drivers who operate vehicles with suspended licenses. Generally, the group has called for impounding the vehicles of drivers whose licenses are suspended, charging any driver who commits two or more dangerous moving violations within an eighteen month period with a felony and creating an Office of Road Safety at New York City Hall to draw attention to the problem.
The recent passage of “Leandra’s Law,” which makes driving while intoxicated with a minor in the car a felony, has drawn national attention to New York’s driving laws. Under Leandra’s Law, if an intoxicated driver seriously injures or kills a minor while they are passengers inside the car, the driver will face imprisonment of up to 15 or 25 years. However, the intoxicated driver who struck two minors while they were in a crosswalk currently only faces the penalties that accompany a driving-while-intoxicated (DWI) offense and the offense of Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Vehicle, which carries a maximum penalty of a fine up to $5,000.00 and up to four years in prison. The citizens of New York must now ask themselves whether it is logical to impose such disproportionate sentences for the essentially the same offense, regardless of whether the minor was present inside the car or walking in front of it.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that seventy-five percent of drivers with suspended licenses continue to drive. The virtual lack of consequences for driving with a suspended license in New York no doubt adds to this crisis. Even the 26-year-old who recently killed the elderly pedestrian couple, with 29 previous license suspensions on his record, is free to drive again. He has only been charged with leaving the scene and unlicensed operation of a vehicle. If the ten percent of New York City crashes that are caused by drivers operating without a license is to be reduced, stricter punishments for violations of license suspension are likely necessary.
For Further Reference
If you, or a loved one, have been injured by an unlicensed driver, please contact an experienced personal injury attorney to learn more about your legal rights and options. To show support for more meaningful penalties against drivers operating with a suspended license, contact your legislature.