Cuomo Wants 7-Year Sentences for New Yorkers Who Lose Cool, Attack Transportation Workers

a construction crew works on the tracks of the East Side Access project beneath Grand Central Terminal in New York.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed slapping a felony charge on anyone who attacks a transportation worker, citing problems including frustrated motorists who ignore flagmen and speed through work zones.

The state's Department of Transportation reported 610 such incidents from 2014 to 2017, with an increase in the number of assaults on highway workers despite a public service announcement and social media campaign designed to tamp down motorists' anger unveiled last year called "Flaggers have families, too."

Under the governor's proposal, drivers who breach a highway work zone could face up to three months in jail and a fine up to $500. Assaults and reckless endangerment against workers would net even higher penalties.

Currently, some Metropolitan Transportation Authority workers such as bus drivers and station agents are covered under the Class D felony provision that levies a mandatory term of seven years in prison and a fine up to $5,000 for attacks on these workers.

Cuomo's FY 2020 budget would expand protected employees to include highway workers, contractors with the state Department of Transportation and Thruway Authority, municipal highway workers and contractors, and airport staff.

Other covered professions would include fare collectors, station maintenance workers, custodial staff, baggage handlers, ticket counter staff, and more.

"These increased penalties will send a clear message to all drivers that they must use due care when behind the wheel, or they will face stiff penalties for not following the law," said Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll.

Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said that "offering these employees further safeguards from potential assaults will greatly reduce turnover, improve morale and develop better trained workers as critical contributors to airport operations and security in this post-9/11 world."

Cuomo's budget would also create a public education and outreach program "to increase motorist awareness of the importance of highway work zones, increase and promote work zone safety and reduce the number of work zone incidents, including speeding, unauthorized intrusion into work zones and any conduct resulting in threats or injuries to highway workers," the governor's office said.

"By strengthening existing penalties and expanding the categories of workers included in these protections, we will prevent future assaults, ensure the safety of New York's transportation workers and provide law enforcement the tools they need to hold offenders accountable," Cuomo said in a statement.