Pavement Patty struck my procrastinatory interest in the incidences of fatal pedestrian and bike accidents in New York. Yes, it’s been only a few weeks since we reported on car-meets-person maulings in NYC. But there’s a new development. If you’ve been (safely) riding the subway lately, you may have seen some advertisements for it: Elle’s Law.
They are fairly arresting posters–one with a cute little blonde girl and the other with a kid’s bike under the wheels of a car. They have taglines like “She almost died for a parking space.”
This struck my wife and I as odd. What could Elle’s Law be? Something that makes it illegal to crush little girls while parking? Isn’t it already, you know, illegal?
Not necessarily. Turns out that Elle was a girl struck on the Upper East Side last year by some dude who was zooming in reverse to catch a parking space. Because he was sober and didn’t flee the scene, he wasn’t charged with anything. He was just given a traffic ticket and sent on his way, while Elle went into a coma and nearly died.
She recovered, but her case isn’t isolated. I should know: the woman who was distracted and killed my uncle last year in central New Jersey was given a $150 fine for reckless driving. No criminal charges, no suspended or revoked license. She probably drove herself home from the courthouse. Before his death, my uncle had been fined more than that for having dogs tied up outside in violation of township codes.
It turns out here in Gotham, the NYPD has been particularly bad about getting justice for people struck and killed by negligent drivers. Streetsblog.org has been doing a great job of covering the many injustices. In a piece about the July death of Brooklyn mother of three (she was hit by an SUV that witnesses said sped through a red light; the driver faced no charges), Ben Fried wrote:
Nearly 300 New Yorkers are killed and more than 70,000 are injured by car collisions every year. Traffic is the number one risk of injury-related death for city children. And yet, we are served by a police force that, through its enforcement of traffic laws, operation of its own motor vehicles, and investigations into automobile crashes, displays a habitual disregard for the lethal consequences of reckless and negligent driving.
It turns out laws like Elle’s Law (or the ever more tragically-inspired Diego and Hayley’s Law) is as much about reforming the cops as it is about reforming drivers. By allowing prosecutors to criminally charge sober drivers who are speeding or texting or shouting or otherwise reckless when they injure or kill people, those laws could save lives or at least bring some justice for the dead. So despite my otherwise libertarian aversion to lots of safety laws, I’ll say it: good for Elle’s Law.