New Yorkers may not worry as much as they once did about being robbed at gunpoint or knife point, but that does not mean the city's streets are safe. Deadly collapses at construction sites sometimes hit the headlines. Stray power lines under the streets are a potentially mortal hazard. But the threat that has mayor Mike Bloomberg and New York state Governor George Pataki changing laws and demanding murder charges is the growing problem of hit-and-run drivers. This city has about 100,000 unlicensed drivers and many more illegal immigrants, who fear deportation if they are stopped by the police. The death toll from drinking and driving is on the increase. And New York pedestrians commonly scoff at traffic lights - jaywalking is almost a right. In most years, about 40 people die in accidents involving drivers who flee the scene of an accident. But at least 29 people have already been killed this year in the city and the neighbouring Long Island area, in hit-and-runs. The drivers were either intoxicated, speeding, unlicensed, in the country illegally, or a combination of several of these factors. Among the victims left to die was a seven-year-old boy who was crossing the road to buy ice cream, a 20-year-old Russian immigrant who was dreaming of going to college and a mother and her two-year-old baby. 'I don't know the difference between that and just cold-blooded murder,' said Mr Bloomberg. He has asked whether murder charges could be brought against a hit-and-run driver who could have saved the life of a victim if he had not fled. Mr Pataki signed a law last month increasing the maximum penalty for hit-and-run drivers from four to seven years. Before that, a drunk driver staying at the scene would likely be punished harder than one who fled. The law, which was originally slated to come into force in November, was brought into effect last month because of the spate of recent incidents. Politicians are still debating whether installing more speed cameras would ease the problem, or at least help to catch more of the rogue drivers. But some New Yorkers have lost patience. One BMW driver recently chased a van driver who drove away after knocking down a woman. The car chase took them across a large slice of the city, and soon two other Good Samaritans joined in. The Hollywood-like scene ended with the arrest of the hit-and-runner, whose licence had expired. There is even a website that tracks the problem - deadlyroads.com - and an acronym for the drivers' motives: DUSA, for Driving Impaired, Unlicensed, Self-Preservation (ie with something to hide) and simple Amorality.