Preventing Traffic Fatalities

Almost everyone in New York knows that the homicide rate in New York, thanks to effective policing and prosecution, has declined to around 500 homicides a year from a peak of more than 2200 homicides in 1990. Mayors and police commissioners, rightfully, tout these numbers and New York's status as the safest big city in America.

And yet few people know that, shockingly, the traffic fatality rate in New York is almost as high -almost 300 lost lives a year.

At a time when the City's Transportation Department is taking steps to make New York City more bike and pedestrian friendly, it is imperative that our law enforcement community keep pace.

There is no reason why the traffic fatality rate should be so high. These are not just "accidents" -- they are preventable deaths. And if we focused similar attention on these deaths as we do on homicides, we could prevent many of them.

When I was the president of Jim and Sarah Brady's Handgun Control, Inc, we decided to take on the problem of shooting "accidents" in the home. There was an epidemic of children finding a parent's gun and accidentally shooting it. Through a combination of education focusing on the idea that these "accidents" could be prevented and advocacy, we passed child accident prevention laws in many states that made gun owners liable for accidents that should have been prevented.

The city's District Attorneys' offices need to send a message that they will be very serious in investigating traffic fatalities. If a fatality can be prosecuted as criminally negligent homicide, it will be. To that end, I will have specialized Assistant District Attorneys with the training necessary to prosecute these crimes effectively.

These ADAs will be trained to work closely with family members and witnesses. In cases like these, it is important that family members and witnesses be closely involved in the case, so they understand what is going on at every stage of the process.

The goal, of course, should be to minimize traffic fatalities and realize the vision of a sustainable city where every New Yorker gets around safely on foot, on two wheels or four. But prosecuting drivers after a traffic fatality, while necessary, does not lower the number of traffic fatalities. So we need to be ready to prosecute other traffic crimes as well. Drivers need to know that if they are driving recklessly, they will be stopped. Hopefully, this will limit reckless driving - helping to lower the overall number of traffic fatalities.

As District Attorney, I commit to dedicating appropriate resources to ensure that traffic fatalities become as rare as bike lanes used to be.

Richard Aborn is a former Manhattan prosecutor, former president of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, and a candidate for Manhattan District Attorney.