NY City Council Summons Police on Traffic Crime Investigations

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Ghost bike along the Hudson River bike path (photo by Kate Hinds)

The City Council is holding a joint hearing Wednesday to determine if the NYPD is thoroughly investigating traffic crashes following a number of high profile cases involving cyclists being killed or injured by vehicles that did not result in criminal charges.

The most noteworthy case was the death of Mathieu Lefevre in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, last October. A truck making a right turn struck Lefevre then dragged him and his bike almost halfway down the block. From evidence released after Lefevre's parents filed a Freedom Of Information request, it appears as though the truck hit Lefevre twice, kept driving and parked nearby. When identified later by police, the driver said he didn't know he hit anyone. No charges were filed.

"I would like to know police enforcement policies in terms of bike safety and truck enforcement,” Council public safety committee chair Peter Vallone told WNYC. Vallone said he gets consistent complaints from constituents about trucks breaking the laws without receiving tickets, and on lapse police follow up to traffic crashes.

Police did not respond to requests to clarify their policy on investigations. Sources said they were concerned police only investigate traffic crashes if there is a death or a police witness.

But based on a review of incomplete data available to transportation safety advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, the group’s general counsel and policy analyst Juan Martinez said, "if you don’t leave the scene and you’re not drunk, there’s almost no chance you’ll be charged."

Martinez's group advocated for Haley and Diego's Law which was billed as a crackdown on careless drivers. The statute took effect in 2010 and could be used to bring charges in cases where no clear traffic law was violated, but the driver is at fault.

Steve Vaccaro is the Lefevre family's lawyer. He says Haley's law could allow for charging the truck driver. "Given the facts here, that the driver somehow managed to run over the cyclist with his front driver-side wheel, and drag the cyclist for 40 plus feet… and his bike," he said, "we think it is unlikely that the driver didn’t notice."