New York Bill: Drunk Drivers Can No Longer Claim Ignorance After Hit-And-Run

In 2011, an 18-year-old woman was struck and killed by a drunk driver in the town of Amherst, New York. The driver sped away and, when arrested later, claimed he didn’t know that he’d hit anyone. The state was forced to take him at his word: the prosecutor couldn’t legally file manslaughter charges.

child-victim-drunk-drivingCurrently, New York law requires drivers to report accidents if they know they might have harmed persons or property. Unfortunately, a drunk driver, by the very nature of his or her intoxication, can be oblivious to damage and even death. In effect, one crime – DUI – makes it more difficult to prosecute another.

Two New York legislators, Patrick M. Gallivan (R-Elma) and, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D-Buffalo) hope to change the law so that impairment is no longer an excuse for leaving the scene of an accident. Their Bill, S405-2015, states that the driver has a duty to do a “reasonable and good faith investigation” to check for damage or personal injury. If such harm has been caused, it will be up to the driver to prove that he or she did not know about it. Furthermore, impairment by drugs or alcohol has no bearing on the driver’s duty to investigate.

If this bill passes, it will be another instance of New York taking the lead in tightening loopholes and making anti-drunk driving legislation as effective as possible. New York is known for its anti-drunk driving efforts, including

  • Enforcement programs such as sobriety checkpoints
  • A comprehensive all-offender ignition interlock program
  • Laws which make it a felony to drive to nonessential destinations if the driver has a restricted license, and
  • Laws making it a felony to drive drunk with a child under 16 in the car

It’s always hard to strike the right balance between the rights of the accused and the rights of society. This authors of this bill have a valid point: if drunk driving is itself a crime, then drunkenness should not be a get-out-of-jail-free card for those who injure others.