Data shows that in New York City, when a driver kills someone with his car, whether it’s a motorist, pedestrian, or cyclist, 40% of the time no traffic ticket is issued. Last year 21 cyclists were killed in bike/car collisions but only two arrests were made. It could be that the cyclist was at fault for some of these collisions, but either way bike advocates are urging police to crack down on motorists who endanger people on bikes.
Caroline Samponaro from Transportation Alternatives is one such advocate who wants local police to take bike accidents more seriously. According to her, “Even if [a driver] can’t prevent that crash, [police] can follow up and make sure that another crash like it doesn’t ever happen.” Others agree with her and have resorted to protesting outside police headquarters to criticize the police’s lackluster investigation of recent cyclist deaths.
Facing pressure and criticism from local bike enthusiasts, the city council held a hearing about traffic safety in February. Unfortunately, the NYC Accident Investigation Squad are assigned the most serious traffic cases, but because of ongoing budget cuts the entire city is in the hands of just 19 detectives. As a result, the personnel is spread too thin and thus they may be of the mindset that bike accidents aren’t as high a priority as other mishaps, especially since general traffic death figures are low.
TransportationNation.org interviewed local police and asked them how they determine when they need to arrest a motorist who has caused an accident with a cyclist:
“In an email, they said a motorist needs to break two traffic laws to rise to the level of criminal.
‘Speeding alone will not produce criminality,’ the statement reads. ‘Passing a stop sign only will not provide for criminal charges. They will result in a speeding summons and a stop sign summons only, but together we have established a criminal charge of Criminally Negligent Homicide or higher.’
You’d need both to slap cuffs on a driver. And the police would need to witness speeding to prove it in most cases, they point out.
‘We as a society have chosen to drive these big cars,’ said Joe McCormack, an assistant District Attorney for the Bronx. It’s his job to prosecute traffic crimes. ‘And we also as a society have chosen not to criminalize every single small mistake that just has a dramatic consequence because you’re driving a car,’ he said.”
Striking and injuring or killing a cyclist doesn’t really sound like a “small mistake.” Accidents do happen and sometimes it’s hard to determine who was at fault, but drivers need to acknowledge that they have to share the road and be courteous to cyclists, while cyclists have to obey traffic laws as if they were operating a motor vehicle. Hopefully New York City will start imposing heavier consequences for both motorists and cyclists who are at fault for accidents–it’ll be a step in the right direction when it comes to bringing awareness to bicycle safety.
Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/davesag/868134222/