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NYC Has Laws Restricting Big Trucks on City Streets. Are Companies Obeying?

The death of Bronx high school student Renee Thompson, 16, on the Upper East Side Wednesday evening was the latest in a string of fatal crashes involving large trucks. Thompson was at least the seventh pedestrian killed by a semi-truck driver in New York City in the past year. While there are laws on the books intended to regulate the use of these vehicles, the state of truck enforcement in the city remains opaque, with NYPD's public information office (DCPI) generally providing no details about whether the vehicles involved in these crashes had the proper permits and safety equipment.

Thompson was walking west across Third Avenue on the north side of 60th Street shortly after 7:00 p.m., leaving her job at Dylan's Candy Store, when a tractor-trailer driver turning right from westbound 60th onto Third struck her with the rear wheels of the truck. The driver, Henry Panama, received summonses for violating the pedestrian's right-of-way, careless driving, and operating an unregistered vehicle, but police and prosecutors have not filed criminal charges.

The law requires a permit for trucks longer than 55 feet to operate on surface streets, and it appears the truck Panama was driving likely exceeded that length. DCPI could provide no details about the size of the truck, who owns it, and whether it met safety regulations. It appears, however, that only Henry Panama -- not the company that owns the vehicle -- faces any penalty for the killing of Renee Thompson.

Last month, the driver of a tractor-trailer killed 73-year-old Ngozi Agbim on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. That truck also appeared to be longer than 55 feet. As did the trucks involved in the deaths of Amar Diarrassouba in East Harlem this February and Jessica Dworkin in Soho last summer. In each case, it remains unclear whether the trucks were being operated with or without permits. NYC DOT, which issues the permits, has not responded to a freedom of information question filed in March about the number of permits it gives to oversize trucks.

Engineering and enforcement measures to improve truck safety are not a great mystery. "We know that trucks are three times as deadly as cars, because their size and weight make the impact on blood, flesh, and bone much, much worse," said Juan Martinez of Transportation Alternatives. "And we also know what to do to reduce the dangers posed by the trucks that rumble through our crosswalks -- we design our intersections to make pedestrians the priority, and we deploy law enforcement to let truck drivers know that they need to follow the law. The only big unknown here is whether our leaders have the wherewithal to do what's necessary."

This fatal crash occurred in the 19th Precinct. The next precinct community council meeting is scheduled for this upcoming Monday at 7:00 p.m. at 153 East 67th Street. Call (212) 452-0613 to confirm.

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