Legislation that will get dangerous drivers off the road was signed into law by Governor David Paterson on Friday. Elle’s Law, which was introduced by Assembly Member Micah Z. Kellner (D, WFP), creates new penalties for drivers who injure pedestrians while violating traffic laws. The bill was sponsored in the State Senate by Senator Martin Dilan.
Elle’s Law was named for 3-year old Elle Vandenberghe, who was struck by a motorist while she was on her way to school on the Upper East Side in September 2009. After the incident, Elle lay in a coma for two weeks; she suffered a stroke and lost two-thirds of the left side of her brain. The driver who struck Elle was illegally backing through an intersection – against a red light – in search of a parking space. Although the motorist displayed a blatant disregard for pedestrian safety and consequently left Elle permanently disabled, he was issued only a minor traffic infraction, paid a small fine and was free to get back behind the wheel, subject to no further penalty. Elle remains in physical therapy.
“What happened to Elle Vandenberghe was both a tragedy and an outrage,” Assembly Member Kellner said. “It was unbelievable that a reckless driver could do so much harm and yet still be free to get right back behind the wheel with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Elle’s Law will make irresponsible drivers think twice before doing something dangerous."
Under Elle’s Law, any driver who causes serious physical injury to another person while committing a traffic violation will have his or her license suspended for a period of six months. Drivers who have been involved in any similar incidents within the previous five years will have their licenses suspended for a full year.
According to data from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, in 2008 nearly 5,000 New Yorkers were injured because of a driver’s violation of the state’s vehicle and traffic laws. Only 2% of these violations resulted in criminal charges, leaving thousands of New Yorkers and families with no legal recourse. Prosecutors are unable to charge drivers who seriously injure innocent pedestrians under the existing Vehicular Assault laws, even when the serious injury was the direct result of the driver’s moving violation, unless it can be proven that the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Because criminal charges are almost never possible, prior to Elle’s Law no effective sanction existed for drivers who injured pedestrians while violating traffic laws. Elle’s Law closes this loophole by creating a mechanism to punish these reckless drivers – suspending their licenses so that they cannot simply get back on the road.
“Sadly, no law can undo what happened to Elle Vandenberghe, but we can ensure that in the future our streets are safer by getting dangerous drivers off the road and stopping thousands of unnecessary tragedies like Elle's before they happen," said Assembly Member Kellner. "By signing Elle's Law the Governor turned this little girl's tragedy into a legacy: making it safer for every New Yorker to cross the street."