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Manhattan DA Candidates Debate Traffic Justice (selects)

Every year, vehicular violence claims the lives about 300 New Yorkers and injures thousands more. But even in cases where victims die, drivers are often allowed to get right back behind the wheel as long as they are sober, licensed, and remain at the scene.

A large part of the responsibility for deterring deadly driving lies with New York’s District Attorneys. With the campaign to succeed Robert Morgenthau as Manhattan’s top prosecutor heating up, the next DA will have the opportunity to keep streets safer by holding reckless drivers more accountable.

Last month, Transportation Alternatives and the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law organized a forum on traffic justice for the three DA candidates: Richard Aborn, Cyrus Vance, and Leslie Crocker Snyder (who could not attend and sent a top staffer, Richard Socarides, in her stead). Streetfilms used footage of the debate to compile this selection of highlights. Watch and find out how each candidate pledges to deter dangerous driving if elected. As TA’s Peter Goldwasser said after the Q&A, “Once one of you is in office, we’ll remind you of the things you said today.”

[music]
Aaron Naparstek: [0:02] Next year, somewhere around 300 people will be killed by motor vehicles in New York City. Somewhere around a quarter of those fatalities will take place in Manhattan, under the watch of which every one of these three candidates wins this election. [music continues]
Aaron Naparstek: [0:23] On February 13th, 2007, a four-year-old boy named James Rice was on his way home from daycare, crossing the street with the pedestrian signal giving him the legal right-of-way, when a yellow Hummer SUV made a fast right turn into the crosswalk, dragging and crushing James Rice to death. [0:44] Because the driver, Ken Williams, stopped at the scene and had not been drinking alcohol, his only inconvenience for killing a four-year-old boy was a summons citing him for failing to yield to a pedestrian.

[0:58] After the police concluded their on-scene investigation, Williams was put back in the driver's seat of his Hummer to drive home. And as far as the justice system was concerned, that was that.

[1:10] The overarching question of this debate has already been asked. It was asked by May Ng, after the death of her four-year-old daughter, Hayley, on East Broadway last January. Her question was simply this. "Our children were killed and the driver walks away without even a ticket; how can this be?"

[1:29] She deserves an answer.

Richard Socarides: [1:31] First and foremost, the role of the DA is about public safety, and where warranted, she will prosecute these cases with a new vigor.
Cyrus Vance: [1:40] Vehicular crime enforcement is going to be a high priority in the Manhattan DA's office, period. With regard to vehicle assaults and vehicle homicide, we will have a robust unit. We will devote more resources to training.
Richard Aborn: [1:54] And the homicides have gotten enormous attention over the last years, and we've taken the best of what policing does, and the best of what prosecution does, and have focused our attention on homicides. And we've driven them down. [2:05] So, it's now time to take that same sort of effort and put our minds on driving vehicular homicides down. We're going to be deadly serious about investigating these cases. These do not have to go on; there are lots of things we can do to reduce the number of vehicular homicides and vehicular assaults taking place in this city. [music continues]
Cyrus Vance: [2:32] Whether or not there are two statutory violations involved, we need to be looking at things like the number of people on the street. If someone is driving at 100 miles an hour down Center Street, that's criminal negligence. It could also be criminal negligence if that person is driving at 25 miles an hour down Center Street in a crowd.
Richard Socarides: [2:53] There ought not to have to be a test that you have to have done it before, or that you have to break it in a certain way, or that it has to be a certain mile per hour over the speed limit. Each one of these cases has to be looked at individually.
Richard Aborn: [3:09] The rule of two is ready to be tested. I mean, how many times have any of us gone down the West Side Highway or up the FDR and seen some ridiculous driver careening in and out of cars going at a rate of speed? And you thought to yourself, "Oh, my God. This guy is going to kill somebody." [3:24] Well, in fact, that person could well kill somebody, and when they do, there needs to be firm, swift action. It has to be a message sent to the driving public that if you violate the law in this way, you're not going to just get a ticket. You're going to be criminally prosecuted.
Cyrus Vance: [3:38] Serious enforcement starts not just at the tragic level, but it starts at those cases where behavior is potentially tragic.
Richard Aborn: [3:49] But, we've got to make sure that the police department is a component of this conversation, because they are critical piece of this.


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