Why Driving on the Sidewalk Doesn't Automatically Result in a Ticket

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 - 01:00 PM

A car on the sidewalk, after crashing into a building on the Lower East Side. (mlcastle/flickr)

When the driver of a Honda Pilot hopped a curb in Queens last week, striking several children, that action triggered an NYPD investigation -- meaning the driver could face consequences. Here's why that's unusual in New York City.

Because of a legal loophole, officers who don't directly witness careless driving can't even so much as write a ticket.  Not even when the driver is driving on the sidewalk.  That's unless the special NYPD unit tasked with investigating serious traffic crashes gets involved, and before now, that almost never happened unless there was a dead body.

Some background: last Thursday, during prime walk-to-school hours, 40-year-old driver Francis Lu "accidentally hit the accelerator instead of the brake," according to an NYPD spokesman. After jumping the curb, Lu's car hit five students between the ages of 12 and 13. While at least two of the victims had broken bones, the NYPD described their injuries as non-life threatening.

A spokesperson for the NYPD said the incident is under investigation by the department's Collision Investigation Squad.

That in and of itself is a break from the past, said Juan Martinez, general counsel for the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.

“What’s interesting about this," he said, "is that the CIS got involved at all. Six months or so ago, that wouldn’t have been the case.”

Earlier this year the NYPD instituted reforms to its then-named Accident Investigation Squad, whose 19 officers covered the entire city and only investigated traffic crashes resulting in death. Now, the newly renamed Collision Investigation Squad is taking a harder look at more crashes.

Moreover, a 2010 law known as Hayley and Diego's Law imposes penalties on drivers "whose failure to exercise due care results in injury to pedestrians or bicyclists." Taken together, you'd think enforcement would be up in New York City.

But that's not entirely clear. Here's the catch: a legal loophole prevents the NYPD from implementing that law.

According to Martinez, if the AIS doesn't get involved, the NYPD says officers are unable to write careless driving tickets for infractions they don't physically witness. So even if a driver cruises down a sidewalk and admits it, unless that act is seen by a police officer, the driver won't get cited. 

"If the CIS doesn’t come in," said Martinez, "they can’t even slap him with careless driving."

The NYPD didn't immediately respond to questions about how many officers are staffing its Collision Investigation Squad.

Steve Vaccaro, an attorney with Vaccaro and White (a firm that represents injured cyclists and pedestrians) said recently City Council passed a law that makes it a misdemeanor for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. But "there is no comparable law for motorists," he said.

There is legislation pending in Albany to close the loophole. S3644A would allow officers to issue violations to the driving law "even if the accident did not take place in the presence of the police officer if the officer has reasonable cause to believe that the violation was committed by such person."

“It would mean more work for (the NYPD), but it would not be different than the investigation of any other crime," Vaccaro said. "It would just mean that police officers would investigate the crime, gather evidence, take witness statements, and make a determination."

Transportation Alternatives calls the bill a "targeted, simple fix" which would allow officers to simply enforce laws already on the books.

Earlier this month, a WNYC analysis of NYC crash data found school-age children make up almost a third of all pedestrian accidents in New York City in the hours immediately before and after school.

A surveillance video of the crash (warning: graphic) is below.



Comments [8]

DontDentMyCar from Brooklyn

There's a strange division between Traffic Police that hand out parking tickets but rarely ticket for double parked vehicles (sitting in front of a legal parking space) and the NYPD who seems to only ticket moving violations. Both should focus on all vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The thing is there are driving violations everywhere, to a point that it's really gotten out of hand (see my youtube channel if you don't believe me). Seems like aggressive drivers always have an excuse for driving recklessly. It really wouldn't take much on the NYPD's part to be as aggressive in ticketing infractions, and for minor infractions give out a verbal warning. Let drivers know they're behaving dangerously... the same goes for reckless pedestrians and bicyclists. I've almost hit 2 pedestrians who just walked out into traffic, w/ video proof.

Sep. 24 2013 06:34 PM
Daniel from Brooklyn

The NYPD's scandalous lack of enforcement against reckless drivers can not be blamed on the law. It is the fault of Ray Kelly's illegally negligent policing policies.


Francis Lu can be charged with anything from Reckless Endangerment up to Second Degree Assault without a police officer needing to have personally witnessed the curb jumping.

There is absolutely no reason for reckless drivers to kill more New Yorkers every year than guns. Our policing priorities all screwed up under a police commissioner too busy chasing bin Laden to pay attention to actually policing this city.

I observe dozens of dangerous and illegal driving maneuvers on my commute each day. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel if the police decided to actually enforce traffic laws. I've lost count of the number of times a driver has lost patience with me being stopped in front of them at a red light and jumped the curb so they could run the red light. This type of madness is unheard of in other American cities.

Our laws could be strengthened of course. It is silly to force a police officer into a high speed chase to catch speeders. Simply put cameras everywhere and raise the ticket to $5000 or 5% of income, whichever is higher; problem solved. Speed kills, so lower the speed limit on residential streets to 20 mph. Install automatic ticketing devices in cabs, buses and trucks so if the driver fails to signal a turn or uses their cell phone they are immediately ticketed and each fare paying customer gets an automatic refund + $50. Increase the penalties for failing to yield to a pedestrian. I could go on. The point is there are plenty of improvements to be made at the state level, but we can start by enforcing existing laws with a good police commissioner.

Sep. 18 2013 09:27 PM

Frank: here's the law re: bikes on sidewalks.

Sep. 18 2013 02:21 PM
frank from brooklyn

What new law is there that makes it a misdemeanor to bike on sidewalk in NYC? I couldnt find information on this online.

Sep. 18 2013 12:52 PM
John from NYC

What city do you live in, Paul?

Sep. 18 2013 09:17 AM
PWBNYC from Queens

Far too often vehicles are ending up on the sidewalk and injuring, several times killing pedestrians. Deterrence is not the only reason for criminalizing reckless behavior, though I would absolutely disagree that increased penalties and enforcement would not have a deterrent effect. For starters, the reckless driver will be less likely to commit the same reckless act either because they have lost their license as part of a criminal penalty or the danger that a second offense could cost them their license and possibly jail time makes them more cautious, and perhaps less likely to drive in the first place. But establishing penalties for this reckless behavior also serves a social justice function and enforces what should already be a societal norm: driving is a privilege, not a right, and that privilege can only be retained by scrupulous compliance with safety rules. If you lack the dexterity, maturity or common sense to comply with those rules, thereby placing others at risk of serious injury or death then it is absolutely necessary that the privilege be revoked. As it stands now, a 2,000 pound vehicle flying on to a sidewalk and mowing down 5 innocent and unprotected children does not garner so much as a ticket, let alone license revocation, whereas, a guy on a 30 pound bike nicking the ankle of Nicole Kidman on the sidewalk - an event that happened on the very same day, resulted in 3 tickets, at least one of which was not even for a real offense (failure to wear a helmet). Our priorities need a serious adjustment, and this needs to happen quickly before more people are killed.

Sep. 18 2013 09:09 AM
Anita Yarbery from Manhattan

With all due respect to Paul (above): I seldom drive in NYC.
This summer I had occasion to on a Thursday night. In mid-town
as I was stopped at a red light, two NYC cabs swerved around me,
up onto the side walk, and sped through the red light. Twice in
a matter of seconds BOTH driving onto the side walk and through
a red light. I can't imagine how often that must happen.

Sep. 18 2013 07:58 AM

I doubt that there's any sign out there of an epidemic of automotive curb-jumping.

With all due respect, driving on the curb is not something that ANYONE would generally contemplate unless they are psychotic or intoxicated. Issuing these drivers a summons for curb-jumping would have NO preventative effect, and I'd imagine it would not increase the city's income by very much.

There are the usual remedies for drivers who are intoxicated or out to do actual damage, for whatever their reason. I am sure that tickets can be issued in those events, whether the driver was curb-hopping or not.

Sep. 18 2013 07:47 AM

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