NYC: Safe For Reckless Drivers, Dangerous For Pedestrians?

It may not be surprising to learn that bicycle and pedestrian accidents in New York City are commonplace, but the statistics are upsetting. While pedestrians account for approximately 11.4 percent of traffic deaths in the United States, that percentage skyrockets to 49.6 percent in New York. Bicycle statistics are not much better; bicyclists account for 6.1 percent of all traffic deaths in New York City, three times the U.S. average. (See the data in this 2012 road safety study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.)

New York, of course, has many more walkers, bicyclists and cars concentrated in the city than other areas of the nation do. Yet, there are other, more concerning, reasons for the disparity between New York and other cities such as the lack of enforcement against reckless drivers who hit pedestrians. Laws protect against reckless driving, but enforcement of these laws is a different question altogether.

NYPD Only Investigates Fatal or Near-Fatal Car Accidents

A recent article in The New York Times discussed the penalties — or lack thereof — that reckless drivers face when they hit bicyclists or pedestrians. "In this city of walkers," the article explains, "where we take pride in hoofing it with such a manic intensity that researchers often find us moving faster than crosstown buses, striking a pedestrian — or a biker — and driving away carries few consequences."

According to statistics from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the New York City Police Department investigates only 2 percent of serious injury crashes that were not fatal. This is consistent with the department's Accident Investigation Squad's practice of only investigating a NYC accident when the victim is dead or likely to die.

Therefore, if you are seriously hurt in New York City by a hit-and-run driver, but your injuries are not life threatening, the reckless driver who hit you may never face penalties or be held accountable for his or her negligence. Even when drivers stop or are caught following accidents, New York law allows a driver to say in his or her own defense, "I did not see the pedestrian or bicyclist."

Impact on Personal Injury Cases

This poses a problem for personal injury cases too, since the liable party (the driver) may never be found and the victim would not have access to an official accident report. How, then, can an injured party recover compensation for medical bills, pain and suffering and other damages?

D. Carl Lustig, III, a prominent New York City personal injury lawyer, explains that a hit-and-run accident victim can bring a claim against his or her own uninsured motorist policy. Uninsured motorist insurance covers accidents caused by drivers who leave accident scenes, uninsured motorists and insured motorists whose insurers deny coverage of legitimate accidents, as well as mishaps involving stolen or unregistered cars. Unfortunately, many people purchase only the minimum required amounts of uninsured motorist coverage — which will not cover all of the damages from serious accidents — and some bicyclists simply don't have auto insurance because they do not own cars.

For your own safety and financial health, consider purchasing larger amounts of uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance. If you are in an accident, and are able to identify the at-fault driver, his or her no-fault insurance will cover medical bills and other damages, regardless of fault, and you may be able to sue the driver for money damages. When the driver is faceless, however, your own insurance company will need to foot the bill.

How Can We Make NYC Safer for Bikes and Pedestrians?

What changes should be made, then, to make New York City a safer place for pedestrians and bicyclists? First, the NYPD should expand its Accident Investigation Squad to allow investigations for serious, nonfatal accidents caused by reckless driving. By not acting to hold drivers accountable for their negligent or reckless actions, the police are giving a green light to every driver who drives negligently or recklessly.

As we mentioned in a previous pedestrian/bicycle accident article, city council members recently proposed legislation that calls on the NYPD to increase its accident investigation department, file accident reports for serious accidents and provide crash response plans in all serious accidents.

Until those changes are made (if they are made), it is on all of us to drive safely and share the road with pedestrians and bicyclists. There is no excuse for reckless, negligent or inattentive driving.

Most importantly, if you are injured in a bicycle or pedestrian accident, Lustig and his law firm, Arye, Lustig & Sassower, P.C., urge you to consult an experienced New York City personal injury attorney as soon as possible. An injury lawyer can help you understand your options based on the facts of your individual case.