What Does New York Do For Its Drivers?

Griping about traffic laws, tolls and highway enforcement is nothing new for Americans.

But for New Yorkers, it may be twice as sobering to learn that the Empire State was recently named the most “exploitative” to its drivers than any other state.

So says the National Motorists Association, a Wisconsin-based driver advocacy organization, that released a study in May ranking all 50 states plus Washington, D.C. from worst to best based on their treatment of drivers.

The study, which took approximately five months of data from January to May 2014, used 24 so-called “metrics” that rated each state’s legal protections, regulations, enforcement tactics, state-imposed cost to drive and state fiscal responsibility.

Topping the “worst” list was Washington, D.C., followed by New York, Delaware, New Jersey and Vermont.

Wyoming was named the friendliest state for drivers, followed by North Dakota, Utah, Montana and Mississippi.

The complete rankings can be viewed at: www.motorists.org/2014-states-ranking.

“Motorists have an obligation to the state,” said John Bowman, communications director of the National Motorists Association. “They need to pay their fees, fines and tolls … and they have to drive safely and abide by traffic laws. But in return, the states have obligations to motorists. They have to enforce the laws fairly, protect motorists in courts of law … and they have to be good stewards of the money they’re collecting from motorists.”

New York, according to the study, fared poorly under “legal protections” because it fails to offer trials by jury for traffic infractions or allow drivers to submit a written statement of defense to a judge. Moreover, the state does not allow drivers to engage in the discovery process, in which they can look at police evidence held against them.

Under the “regulations” category, New York also ranked low for having punitive actions deemed too harsh and disproportional, such as a 30- to 90-day license suspension for a first-time offender of driving while intoxicated.

Bowman, while acknowledging that such regulations keep dangerous drivers off the road, said “safety” was not the study’s primary focus, but rather the rights and fair treatment of motorists.

This became even clearer in the third category of “enforcement,” in which Bowman described New York’s heavy use of red light cameras, particularly in New York City, as a money-making scheme for the state to generate revenue.

“A red light camera program is profitable (because) yellow light times at intersections are too short and don’t meet established traffic engineering standards,” Bowman said. “When the yellow light is short, it puts people who are driving through that intersection in a dilemma zone … (many) get a ticket that they didn’t really deserve.”

Bowman insisted that if yellow lights were lengthened by an additional second, the number of accidents at intersections could be reduced by 40 percent and the number of citations by 50 percent.

“(Some states) are ‘fixing the game’ … and taking advantage of motorists in the form of citations,” he said.

The “state-imposed cost to drive” category, which looked at tolls, the state fuel tax and other fees, determined that New York adds a cost of 4.9 cents for every mile driven. The average cost is about 3 cents.

The final category of “fiscal responsibility” revealed that New York uses a substantial amount of revenue from drivers to pay for mass transit projects rather than roads and bridges. This was frowned upon by the National Motorists Organization.

“Drivers are obligated to pay a certain amount of money to use the roads … and the states are also obligated to make wise use of those dollars and to spend them appropriately,” Bowman said. “Some states are doing a better job than others … a lot of them tend to be rural, southern and Midwestern states where there is more of a hands-off attitude about government and how it interacts with citizens.”

Interestingly, in a recent study by the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit health advocacy organization, many of the states lauded by the National Motorists Association were also deemed the most dangerous to drive in.

The study, which analyzed the amount of traffic deaths, health care costs and loss of work for those in vehicle accidents, revealed that Mississippi had the highest motor vehicle-related death rate, followed by Montana and Alabama.

Wyoming, which was regarded the most driver-friendly state by the National Motorists Association, was ranked fourth in the “most dangerous” list, with slightly more than 100 fatalities per year.

Bowman indicated that further studies incorporating traffic safety are expected by his organization.