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CBS 2 Investigation: Careless Drivers Get Away With Mayhem Despite New Laws

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- Thousands of pedestrians and cyclists are killed or injured by automobiles in New York City each and every year, but drivers rarely if ever face serious consequences.

However, there has been a move to change that, and some say it will finally hold careless drivers accountable, CBS 2 investigative reporter Tamara Leitner reported Tuesday.

Careless driving can lead to accidents very easily, with pedestrians and even children killed. No one is immune.

But even if the drivers admit fault, many times they are never charged at all.

Heather Vanderbergh's daughter, Elle, was nearly killed three years ago by a driver speeding in reverse. He was never punished.

"I was just so devastated by that -- by the fact that my daughter was almost dead and this man is not only roaming free, but driving, still -- and he could hurt anyone," Vanderbergh said.

At the time, Vanderbergh helped get the law changed so police could crack down on careless driving, but CBS 2 has learned that now, three years later, the crackdown is a bust.

Vanderbergh is frustrated that even though a law has been passed, it is not being enforced.

The law added tough penalties for careless driving, but there is a problem. In New York City, in order to write a ticket, the officer has to witness the violation personally or else it gets thrown out in court.

"Courts have said officers, if they don't observe the violation, they cannot issue the summons," Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said.

Steve Vaccaro, who represents injured pedestrians, said it is an impossible standard.

"Unless the most unusual of coincidences occurs and an officer happens to be looking right at you the moment you kill or injure someone, there's no serious consequences," he said.

However, there has been a move to change the law again, to make it easier to write the tickets. Officers would not have to see the careless driving, but would need only what is called "reliable evidence" that it occurred.

"The bottom line is when careless driving leads to serious injury or death, we have to do something about it," said New York State Senator Dan Squadron (D-Manhattan.)

But Casey Raskob of the National Motorist Association said even with the change, tickets could still be dismissed. He said the new law amounts to changing the burden of proof.

"I don't think any of us want to be subject to the rantings of someone on the corner, or some person on the corner saw this happen," he said. "I don't believe that is an adequate standard in a court of law."

But Vanderbergh said there has to be a way for careless drivers, as with those who drive under the influence of alcohol, to be held responsible.

"If you're drunk, you will go to jail, and if you're sober, nothing will happen to you," she said, "and that's a travesty."

The bill that would change the law is under consideration in Albany.

Currently, many drivers who are not charged criminally face lawsuits from victims or their families in civil court.

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