Program to get dangerous drivers off NYC streets set to expire with dismal record

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By Dan Sears

A city-run program to get dangerous drivers off the road is set to expire in October after three years and few results.

The Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program requires the owners of vehicles that rack up more than five tickets for running red lights in the city or 15 school speed zone camera violations in 12 months to take a driver safety course run by the Department of Transportation. Drivers who fail to complete the two-hour course can have their vehicles seized by the sheriff.

The city has seized only 16 vehicles under the program, according to the Department of Finance. The city also issued 166 “orders of seizure” for vehicles under the law – but they were “deemed unseizable by the Sheriff,” according to the Department Of Finance. Reasons the sheriff couldn’t seize the vehicles included that the plates had already been surrendered, had already sold at auction, or authorities were unable to locate it.

“What’s disappointing… is that it appears that the city has run only a very puny program, a scant program,” said City Comptroller Brad Lander, who sponsored the dangerous vehicle law as a city councilmember.

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When Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the program into law in 2020, City Hall estimated as much as 6,000 vehicles qualified for the program. To date, just 1,200 vehicle owners have taken the course.

The Department of Transportation, which runs the program, has also blown an Aug. 1 deadline to release a report evaluating its effectiveness. The program expires on Oct. 31, leaving the City Council with little time to renew it.

“We are finalizing the evaluation report for the program in collaboration with our agency partners and plan to release it soon,” DOT spokesperson Mona Bruno wrote in an email.

The Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program had problems from the start. It wasn’t until late 2021 – more than a year after de Blasio signed it into law – that the city finally began contacting qualified drivers. By then, a driver who would have qualified for the program crashed his car onto a Brooklyn sidewalk, killing a 3-month-old baby who was being pushed by her parents in a stroller. A suit brought by the parents against the city for failing to enforce the program is ongoing.

De Blasio blamed a vendor for the delays in launching the driver safety courses.

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“We have done very little to confront the harm of repeat reckless driving,” Lander said. “And if we don’t make progress, more New Yorkers will die in traffic crashes as a result. And there’s just no reason for that to happen.”

On Tuesday, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes said he will introduce a bill that would install a speed limiter device on vehicles that receive more than six school speed zone tickets in one year.

“We are not going to suspend your license. We are just going to take the vehicle that you are turning into a weapon and putting other people’s lives in jeopardy by driving recklessly and we are going to make it safer,” said Gounardes, who represents parts of Brooklyn.

Still, cracking down on reckless driving has proven difficult in the state legislature.

In June, a bill to allow New York City to reduce the speed limit on some streets without approval from Albany failed to pass. Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie declined to bring it to the floor for a vote, citing the opposition of local assembly members.

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Gounardes believes his bill stands a chance.

“You can still drive your car, you can still drive your 10,000-pound vehicle if you want to go to the grocery store, you can still do whatever you want to do, we’re just going to slow you down just a little bit so that while you continue to drive, you don’t put other people’s lives in jeopardy,” he said.

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