Street safety advocates push for changes in driver’s licenses

Slapping speeding drivers with summonses isn’t enough to make city streets better, according go pedestrian safety advocates who are calling for a complete overhaul in the system by which people obtain and keep driver’s licenses in New York State.

The topic came up at a street safety round table discussion organized by state Sen. Andrew Gounardes at Community Board 10’s office in Bay Ridge on April 4.

Members of the Southern Brooklyn Pedestrian Safety Task Force, a group organized by Gounardes, sat down with Gounardes and state Sen. Tim Kennedy, chairperson of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, to talk about the dangers of local streets and what could be done to counter them.

Gounardes, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge and several other neighborhoods in Southwest Brooklyn, arranged the round table so that Kennedy could meet with the task force and other transportation safety advocates.

The round table participants offered a variety of ideas.

One participant suggested that the Department of Motor Vehicles revamp its driver’s education curriculum to reflect the fact that streets now have increasing numbers of bike riders who are sharing the roadway with drivers.

Amy Cohen, founder of the Families for Safe Streets, a group made up of parents whose children were killed by reckless drivers, said New York state needs to do more about driver’s licenses up front. “It has to be harder to get and keep your license,” she said.

Another suggestion: requiring drivers to re-take the road test once every 10 years to keep their licenses. Under the current system, a person can pass the road test, obtain a driver’s license and keep that license for the rest of their life. It’s not a good system, according to one task force member, who said drivers often get sloppy and forget the basic rules of the road.

Other steps need to be taken, according to Gounardes. “You should lose your license if you have a number of violations. Now, you can speed a number of times because it is done by a point system,” he said, adding that he would like to change the current law.

“After three speeding tickets in a year, you should not be on the roadway,” Gounardes said.

Cohen said the courts need to be overhauled. Families of victims should have a say at a hearing when it is decided if a driver can keep a license, she said. “We have no standing at the hearing, Families should have standing at these hearings,” she said, as people at the table nodded in agreement.

Both Gounardes and Kennedy outlined the steps that the state legislature has taken to make streets safer, including the passage of a bill to increase the number of cameras in school zones in New York City from 140 to 750 to catch speeding drivers in the act.

“There are a number of initiatives that will enhance public safety,” said Kennedy, a Democrat who represents parts of Buffalo.

Task force members told of the dangers they face on the streets.

“I live on 10th Avenue. It’s a raceway constantly,” Denise Cangemi told Kennedy. She suggested that more speed bumps be placed on streets to get drivers to slow down.

Cangemi and her daughter, Gabriella, a fourth grader, recently witnessed a driver run a stop sign at the intersection of 15th Avenue and 83rd Street, barely missing hitting a pedestrian. “It was scary,” Gabriella said.

To make matters worse, the driver yelled at the pedestrian and then cursed Cangemi in front of her daughter when she tried to admonish the motorist.

Cangemi wrote about the incident on Facebook.

“To the nasty woman this morning who rolled through a stop sign almost hitting a pedestrian and then yelled at her for not accepting her apology, only to double down and yell at me in front of my daughter because I was shocked, thank you for calling ME a sinner. I hope you get off your phone call and pay attention to your driving, I hope someone is able to help you make sense of it all and if not, I hope someone takes away your driver’s license,” she wrote.

Gounardes established the task force in the wake of revelations about the shockingly high number of car crashes taking place on local streets.

There were 3,312 car crashes in Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018. That’s 400 more than the average number of collisions in other Brooklyn neighborhoods during that same time period, officials said.

In the course of a single day, Jan. 14, 2019, there were 17 car crashes in the Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights area, according to the NYPD.

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