June 16, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge
The State Senate passed a bill Monday that would crack down on drivers who injure or kill others while driving without a valid license.
Under this legislation, drivers with suspended or revoked licenses—as well as those with none at all—who get into a collision that results in injury would be subject to a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
Collisions of this nature that result in death would also be classified as a felony where the perpetrator could face up to seven years in prison.
Currently these incidents are typically deemed misdemeanors.
“Too many families have grieved at too many vigils, and too many pedestrians have died because of these bad drivers,” State Sen. Gianaris, who introduced the bill, said. “We must crack down on drivers who should not be on the road before the next tragedy occurs, not after.”
“I’ve had cases where unlicensed operators killed people and really got off with a slap on the wrist,” Steve Vaccaro of Vaccaro and White, which represents pedestrians and cyclists injured by motorists, said. “I think that we do need reform in this area.”
The bill has the support of local traffic safety coalition Make Queens Safer.
“This important bill is about accountability for unlicensed and chronically reckless drivers who injure or kill people,” Cristina Furlong of MQS said in a statement. “We hope that the risk of steep consequences deter these dangerous drivers from getting behind the wheel in the first place.”
Gianaris said that the bill was specifically designed to apply only to drivers who have lost their licenses due to behavior behind the wheel.
According to the State Department of Motor Vehicles, common reasons for license suspensions include non-driving related issues, including not paying a traffic ticket, failing to pay child support and failing to pay State tax debts.
The Senator also addressed the problem of unlicensed drivers fleeing the scenes of accidents.
A 2011 report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drivers without a valid license were up to nine times more likely that legal drivers to flee an accident.
When asked whether he believes stronger penalties would exacerbate this problem, Gianaris said, “what we’re incentivizing is people not getting behind the wheel to begin with.”
To leave the law as it stands, he continued, “would be to concede defeat to people who are killing pedestrians. That’s certainly not an approach I would take.”
The bill now awaits passage by the State Assembly.