On March 25, 2021, the New York City council passed a bill that creates a crash investigation and analysis unit within the Department of Transportation. It’s a significant step, say advocates, because it puts the DOT in charge of crash investigations instead of the New York Police Department. An amendment was added to the original text of the bill that clarifies the NYPD will still control any criminal investigations that result from crash investigations.
By the text of the bill, Intro 2224-A, the DOT will establish its crash investigation unit no later than January 1, 2022. This DOT unit will investigate, analyze, and make safety recommendations for infrastructure and street design improvements to prevent similar crashes in the future, as well as issue reports on its findings.
This is seen as a positive development by crash victim advocates, who say that the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad tends to favor the driver’s perspective in crashes, as opposed to those of the other people involved.
“As we’ve long stated, the NYPD has failed to sufficiently investigate crashes, has retraumatized survivors by victim-blaming, and has communicated false, pro-driver narratives to the press. This legislation will significantly improve how we approach crash investigations, how crashes are communicated to the media, how we better bring justice to survivors, and we applaud the council for passing it today,” Marco Conner DiAquoi told StreetsBlog NYC. He is the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, an NYC-based non-profit organization advocating for less reliance on automobiles and more reliance on walking, biking, and public transit.
NYC mayor Bill de Blasio said he planned to sign this version of the bill, as passed by the city council, into law. An earlier version did not include language stating that the NYPD would retain control of potential criminal investigations that may arise from crash investigations. The mayor, as well as the NYPD and local district attorneys, all pushed for the amendment and inclusion of the NYPD in criminal investigations. This bill is one of several citywide pieces of legislation aimed at police reform within the city.
While this particular bill only affects New York city, plenty of eyes from outside its borders will be watching to see how this system works. If it works well, there’s always the likelihood that similar arrangements could turn up in other cities in the future.