OPINION: City, courts must crack down on unsafe drivers
On Sunday, a preventable tragedy occurred just blocks from our homes when a man at the wheel of an SUV drove onto a Fort Greene sidewalk, plowing into a group of pedestrians. Victoria Nicodemus was killed in the crash, and four others were injured. We offer our condolences to the Nicodemus family.
As is often the case, some media outlets are describing this crash as an “accident,” but we resist that inaccurate categorization. Though the NYPD crash investigation is ongoing, we know that the driver was charged for driving without a valid license. In addition, eyewitnesses say the driver was speeding behind a bus, and when the bus stopped, he made the lethal decision to swerve onto the sidewalk in attempt to get around the bus.
Our language matters. It is inexcusable to use the word “accident” to describe a crash caused by that kind of recklessness. It is also shameful and reprehensible that this individual’s dangerous behavior has left one New Yorker dead and several others injured. And while we mourn this death, what is truly egregious is that this and so many other recent crashes have occurred on city sidewalks, where pedestrians are supposed to be safe.
As residents of this great city, we all accept a level of uncertainty in exchange for the benefits of living in New York. At the same time, we assume that if we take certain precautionary measures, like crossing only in the crosswalk with the light, and being careful when we ride our bikes, we have a reasonable chance of keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. But recent crashes send a terrifying and discouraging message: New Yorkers are not safe when it comes to traffic.
Grieving families like ours suffer when the life of a loved one is cut short in a traffic crash. The harsh truth that we’ve learned in the last five years is that we all suffer, we are all affected by traffic violence if the geography of street safety becomes smaller and smaller.
Nicodemus’ death was the fourth pedestrian fatality on Fulton Street this year, making this epicenter of our neighborhood’s life the most deadly street for pedestrians in Brooklyn. That needs to change, and rigorous law enforcement can make a difference.
Unfortunately, the 88th Precinct has decreased its enforcement efforts in 2015. Officers have issued only 105 speeding tickets so far this year vs. 158 tickets in 2014, which we believe has been a factor in an increase in crashes this year.
Speed cameras and modifications to street design make it harder for reckless drivers to wreak havoc. We call on the City Council, Mayor Bill DeBlasio and the city Department of Transportation to fix more dangerous streets and work to get state lawmakers to allow for more automated enforcement — so that lifesaving speed cameras can be deployed not just in school zones during school hours, but all across the five boroughs, and also after dark, when most deadly crashes take place.
We also need greater driver accountability. Owning and operating a vehicle is a privilege, and motorists should be held fully responsible for their actions behind the wheel. We call on Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson to prosecute the recent case in Fort Greene to the full extent of the law to send a message that reckless, lethal driving will not be tolerated.
We know first-hand the grief and loss that results from traffic violence. This systemic problem is a public safety epidemic. In 2014, there were 269 traffic fatalities on New York City’s streets. In recent years, New Yorkers have become more likely to die in traffic crashes than from firearms. Vision Zero lays the foundation for increased safety, but we need stronger education, enforcement and
engineering, the pillars of Vision Zero, to make our streets safe for everyone and stop deaths like the one last Sunday.
— By Aaron, Rachel, Sarah and Zach Charlop-Powers, members of Families for Safe Streets. Their mother, Meg Charlop, was killed in 2010 in a traffic crash in the Bronx.
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