Home Community Op-Ed: How to put the brakes on reckless driving

Op-Ed: How to put the brakes on reckless driving

Op-Ed:  How to put the brakes on reckless driving
by State Senator Rob Rolison
Most of us have had the unpleasant experience of being subjected to someone else s reckless driving. There you are: trapped in a lane, your antagonist tailgating behind you, weaving in and out, attempting to pass. It s usually an irritating, though fleeting, experience, forgotten by the time we pull into our parking space at the grocery store.
However, the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic with fewer cars on the road and wide-open spaces to drive appears to have permanently shifted some motorists behavior for the worse. This cultural transformation has been abetted by lax enforcement. As the New York Times described it in a major 2022 article: Many cities also curtailed enforcement, closed DMV offices and offered reprieves for drivers who had unpaid tickets, expired drivers licenses and out-of-state tags.
In 2024 it s no exaggeration to argue that reckless drivers are fast turning our roads into speedways. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has rightly called the uptick in traffic-related fatalities a crisis. What can be done?
Let s first recognize the difference between casually negligent and reckless driving. Examples of the latter are speeding, weaving or unsafe lane changes, tailgating, and impaired driving. Reckless driving can also be off-roading or taking unlicensed, unregulated motorcycles and off-road vehicles like ATVs on roads, especially those with high levels of foot traffic.
The major difference between careless and reckless driving, however, is that reckless driving is more statistically certain to result in devastating injuries and death. In New York State, reckless driving may be charged as a misdemeanor or a felony. Too many cases end up with the motorist being issued a citation he may or may not acknowledge and no discretion for a judge to compel him.
Some planners and anti-car urbanists argue our public roads are dangerous by design. I disagree. I served my community as a police officer for 26 years; I watched plenty of motorists observe our traffic laws when there was clear and predictable accountability, no matter if they drove on a multi-lane highway or one-way street. Still, I m all for efforts to make our roads friendlier to various forms of transportation, including mass transit, bicycles, and pedestrians.
For example, as mayor of Poughkeepsie, I approved a $2.4 million state investment in pedestrian safety for the city to upgrade its traffic signals and curbs. As state Senator I ve supported targeted appropriations under Congressman Pat Ryan s Community Project Funding to transform Poughkeepsie s Market Street corridor into a two-way complete street with links to Dutchess County s broader transportation network. Safer roads are keys to economic revival in underserved communities like Poughkeepsie and Newburgh, and I ll continue to advocate for cost-effective, high-impact strategies to improve our shared infrastructure.
Unless New York s traffic laws have teeth, however, these improvements won t last. Complete streets or not, some people will continue to drive unlicensed vehicles, drag race, tailgate, and generally menace other drivers. But there is hope. Recently I introduced S.7717A, legislation to crack down on reckless driving that threatens pedestrians and other motorists.
The legislation is simple: it provides discretion to prosecutors and judges to charge a suspect with aggravated reckless driving, a felony. Individuals driving uninsured or unregistered cars, trucks, motorcycles or ATVs, or guilty of three reckless-driving violations, would face forfeiture of their vehicles and other penalties.
The measure is necessary because impaired and/or reckless drivers (including marijuana users) pose a threat to others each time they get behind the wheel. For starters, my bill would prevent repeat offenders such as the speedy Long Island motorist who racked up 296 license suspensions, without losing his vehicle.
If our roads aren t safe, New Yorkers can t feel secure about traveling around our region and state. I m encouraging my colleagues in the Senate to join me in supporting and passing S.7717A during this session of the New York State Legislature. We need safe streets again. Our hardworking residents and families deserve no less.
Rob Rolison (R-39th District) was elected to the New York State Senate in November 2022. The 39th Senate District includes parts of Dutchess, Putnam, and Orange counties.

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