A mother's introduction
to Elle's Law
On September 23, 2009, my 3-year old daughter Elle was hit by a car on her way to her second week of pre-school in New York City. Elle was in a crosswalk on a green light. The driver was rushing parallel to her on a busy boulevard when he spotted a parking spot on a side street, so he reversed up the boulevard, through the crosswalk, and the wrong way down a one way street. His SUV collided with Elle's head. In the emergency room, the doctors said the impact was well over 20 mph.
The day after the accident, one of the blood clots in Elle’s brain—a result of the skull fracture she suffered upon impact–erupted and caused a stroke. The stroke destroyed 2/3 of the left side of her brain. While she lay in a coma for two weeks, the neurologists warned us that if she woke up she would likely never speak again, never walk again and would probably not be able to move her right side.
In the days that followed, we discovered that under existing New York State law, the man who hit Elle was given nothing more than a traffic citation and required to pay a small fine. I learned from the police that if the driver had been intoxicated he would have faced a mandatory jail sentence (despite the fact only two-percent of pedestrian accidents in New York involve drugs or alcohol).
The police were sympathetic but quite clear - there was nothing they could do: "The law is the law." The sergeant at the local precinct suggested I sue the driver in civil court.
As I sat by Elle’s bedside, I was determined to focus my energy on her recovery and on looking forward rather than backward, to save other families from enduring the same tragedy mine had. At the start of the journey to pass Elle’s Law, I wrote in a letter to my state representatives, New York Assembly Member Micah Kellner and Senator Martin Dilan: “If there is one thing I can do in my daughter's honor, it is to fight to change the law that lets the man who hit her roam free without a care in the world, knowing that other children like her will suffer similar or worse fates as they face down reckless drivers in New York. The penalty for hitting a pedestrian while driving illegally should be increased, in order to draw attention to this issue, and hopefully by doing so to make drivers more considerate when around pedestrians.”
It is thanks to these lawmakers’ great support that I am pleased to introduce you to Elle’s Law - an amendment to the New York State penal code signed by Governor David Paterson on August 13, 2010. Along with imposing other penalties, Elle's Law automatically suspends the license of any driver who strikes a pedestrian while driving recklessly. New York is now just one of 13 states with such a law.
Meanwhile, Elle has proven to be a miracle child. She woke up from the coma and slowly started talking again. With hard work and excellent assistance, she is learning to use her right side. After eight months and 11 surgeries, including a cranioplasty to replace half of her skull with a prosthetic, Elle came home in May 2010. Today she talks and laughs just like she did before the accident, and continues to make progress every day. In September 2010, Elle and I walked to her first day of pre-kindergarten, just as the law named for her went into effect.
Heather Acheson Vandenberghe