New York may strengthen the penalties for reckless driving

In July 2010, a 30-year-old man hit and killed a 64-year-old grandfather of four while driving drunk and the wrong way on the Long Island Expressway. The man ran his Mercedes-Benz head on into the Super Shuttle the victim was driving to pick up airport passengers. The victim died 16 days later and Mercedes driver was eventually sentenced to 10 1/2 years in prison for the victim's death.

Then, in November 2010, a 26-year-old motorist struck and killed 42-year-old man while driving his Cadillac Escalade drunk and the wrong way on the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx. This came shortly after another drunk driver killed an off-duty New York police officer, hitting the officer's vehicle head-on while driving the wrong way on the Northern State Parkway on Long Island.

After these and other accidents in New York involving wrong-way drivers, New York State Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo, Jr. and Sen. Jack M. Martins proposed legislation that would create a new crime of aggravated reckless driving. Under current New York law, reckless driving consists of driving "in a manner which unreasonably interferes with the free and proper use of the public highway, or unreasonably endangers users of the public highway." Reckless driving is a misdemeanor offense.

The proposed legislation would have established the separate offense of aggravated reckless driving, which would be a class E felony. In its present form, any of the following actions would constitute aggravated reckless driving:

  • Operating a vehicle in a manner that creates a grave risk of death
  • Driving against the flow of traffic, whether intoxicated or not
  • Driving 30 miles per hour or more above the speed limit while impaired
  • Driving 30 miles per hour or more above the speed limit while racing another vehicle
  • Driving 30 miles per hour or more above the speed limit while weaving in and out of traffic

The State Senate passed the proposed legislation in January 2012 and sent it to the State Assembly the same day. While the bill was not passed by the Assembly, the issue is still an important one and is expected to be addressed by the legislature in the future.

Should the similar legislation be enacted, it will significantly raise the stakes for reckless driving. From a misdemeanor that carries to a potential jail term to a felony that could result in a prison term, aggravated reckless driving is certainly a criminal offense to avoid. However, even without the proposed changes, reckless driving is still a very serious crime. Should you or a loved one be charged with aggravated reckless driving, it would be wise to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney to discuss your situation and your options.

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