Few Traffic Accidents Are Investigated in New York City

The New York City Police Department has become the object of criticism for its failure to investigate traffic accidents. Injured victims are unlikely to obtain answers from law enforcement, whether the accident involved motor vehicles, pedestrians or bicycles. The state of New York recently reported that city police investigated just 2 percent of all nonfatal traffic accidents.

In 2011, there were around 3,000 serious but nonfatal accidents in New York City, according to the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. However, the city’s Accident Investigation Squad investigated only 63 of those accidents. In fact, the city’s standard operating procedure is to look into crashes only when a victim is likely to die or has died.

Even when a car accident or other crash results in a fatality, police may be slow to investigate or to take action against a driver who causes an accident. A woman killed at 14th Street and Broadway was hit by a city truck that failed to stop at a red light before making a right turn. The driver never stopped after he hit the young woman who was crossing the street in the crosswalk. Although police later found him, thanks to a video from a nearby bank, the driver was never charged nor issued a citation for violating traffic laws.

Equally disturbing, victims of fatal bicycle accidents frequently fail to receive justice. The Canadian parents of a cyclist killed in October 2011 were forced to file a lawsuit so they could see the accident report. Three months after the death of their son, they received the files. They found that the driver received two traffic summonses, but was not charged with any crime. This is apparently typical. Although 241 pedestrians or cyclists were killed by car and truck drivers last year, only 17 faced criminal charges. Even drunk drivers involved in fatal car accidents are charged with DWI rather than something more serious – if they are charged at all.

One reason the police do not investigate car crashes and other traffic accidents is poor staffing; the Accident Investigation Squad has only 20 investigators. The City Council has created a task force to explore procedural changes and the possibility of improved staffing to address the problem.

Given the likelihood that a car collision, bicycle crash or pedestrian accident will not be investigated, New Yorkers should take steps to protect themselves when involved in traffic incidents. If at all possible, they should:

  • Stay put. Get information from others involved in the accident. Do not leave until police give you permission to go.
  • Don’t move injured people or let anyone move you until emergency medical help arrives unless there is danger from traffic, fire or toxic substances.
  • Don’t admit fault or apologize. There may be facts that you don’t know about.
  • Notify your insurance company as soon as you can, but do not make a statement before consulting an attorney.
  • If you are asked to complete an accident report, be thorough and accurate. Errors could be used against you later.

Following these guidelines can help people involved in New York City motor vehicle accidents preserve their rights. For more information, contact a personal injury attorney.

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