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

The tractor trailer Henry Panama was driving when he ran over and killed Renee Thompson Wednesday evening. The truck appears to exceed the maximum length allowed on surface streets without a permit. Photo: ## News##

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.

  • tiffany

    I was hit while riding my bike in a similar manner. Riding in a bike lane in Brooklyn, a tractor trailer’s rear wheels drifted into my lane and hit me. I got pulled down into the street, luckily it was the back wheels or I would have been pulled under the truck. The truck didn’t even know it hit me and kept going.
    As I lay there in the street, the cars behind me just started honking for me to get out of the way. Very sad.

  • Reader

    It’s interesting to note the difference in responses to Renee Thompson’s death and the recent death of the woman who fell from her balcony after the railing failed. Thompson’s case resulted in a few traffic tickets for the driver, but no serious investigation whatsoever. And DOT will not redesign the intersection where Thompson was run over to prevent future deaths.

    The balcony case has sparked a major NYPD investigation and promises from the DOB inspect every single balcony not only in the building where the accdident occurred but in every building operated by the management company. You can be sure any and all balconies will be rebuilt to prevent future falls.

    If such a response can be mustered for a terrible, but rare tragedy, why can’t it be mustered for the chronic problem of trucks killing New Yorkers?

  • 55 foot rule to disappear?

    Meanwhile, this bill is floating around the Assembly. Introduced by an urban Democrat:

  • Daniel Winks

    Railings aren’t supposed to fail. When a cyclist or pedestrian gets murdered by a motorist, it’s pretty much assumed the pedestrian/cyclist is at fault, even if the pedestrian/cyclist was completely in the right of way. Simply attempting to use/cross the road is cause enough to warrant someone being able to murder you without any repercussions.

    Mostly it boils down to one thing: making a huge fuss about balconies affects pretty much no one but a few building owners. Making a fuss about people getting murdered in the street affects pretty much everyone. If someone in authority stated an intent to bring road murder to zero, it would mean every motorist being held strictly accountable, speeds in anything approaching an inhabited area being reduced to 20 MPH, and strictly enforce to 100% compliance. Most people are perfectly fine killing someone else if that means they get to attain a higher maximum speed on their trip (even if the average speed doesn’t really change, people only notice what their maximum speed is). Sure, 20 MPH limits everywhere would have pretty much zero impact on how long a trip takes, but people fixate on “doing 35”, and completely forget that 50% of their total trip time was spent at a stop.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Sorry you had to experience that, I hope you weren’t injured. I would’ve told those drivers to that hot place that starts with an H. Infuriating.

    But I never mess with trucks no matter what, I always yield to them because it’s almost always a one-and-done with vehicles of that power and magnitude.

    Intersections, even though motorists are suppose to stop and yield, I always assume they won’t (out of habit), because motorists have a tunnel vision especially when turning. They never turn their heads to look at the crosswalk. Hope these are some helpful tips to the readers.

  • JamesR

    Hit by a truck, lying in the street injured, and you get honked at. People in this city really can be absolute animals sometimes. Especially while behind the wheel.

  • Nicole Gelinas

    Nor does it appear to have a required right-side mirror. I asked the NYPD about this — no comment yet.

  • Stephen

    In fairness, driving ANY size truck in Manhattan requires an extremely high degree of skill on the part of the driver, and the sensory overload here—cabs everywhere (many with an absolutely disregard for any rules or common courtesies), people driving cars like idiots, bikes, jaywalkers, etc—makes the job exceptionally difficult. The problem is that without those trucks, nobody in Manhattan would get what they need. Trucks deliver just about everything, to everywhere. They’re absolutely necessary.

    What’s also necessary is far better oversight, but that pertains to the CAR drivers permitted on Manhattan’s streets, as well. I’m not suggesting a solution, unfortunately, because I don’t have one. I’m also not saying trucking companies and drivers don’t make mistakes and break the law, because they do. I’m simply saying that trucks are a necessary “evil” in society, and in addition to regulating them, we also need to consider the fact driving them is a difficult and thankless job that few people have the motivation—or ability—to do.

  • Greg Thompson Jr.

    I didn’t know that that’s required. I just got your message on Facebook and I responded to it.

  • Joe R.

    The obvious solution is to reduce the other traffic so truck drivers don’t have as much to deal with, and also to increase the number of loading zones so they don’t need to double park to unload. Unfortunately, the city has shown zero desire to reduce unnecessary motor vehicle traffic.

  • This is such a sad accident. NYC streets are crazy dangerous especially Ocean Parkway!

  • Bolwerk

    If a mayoral candidate wanted a bold idea to suggest, s/he could suggest tram freight in NYC. It could reduce the number of truck and wear and tear on streets, though the downside is a pretty high upfront cost. It has got to be less stressful for the driver, too.

  • “This bill seeks to improve the business climate for truckers in New York State. Currently, all owners of commercial trucks are required to pay a $25 per day permit fee to the New York City Department of Transportation and an additional $25 fee to a permit broker.”

    This sick bill must not become law. Business climate for truckers… how about the not-being-crushed-to-death climate for everyone else? Our densely populated city absolutely should regulate large vehicles differently from the rest of the state, and much more than we do now.

  • Of course, but that tunnel-vision is self-inflicted and curable. I found myself actually creating trouble at a Berlin intersection by meekly yielding to a truck driver as New York has so well trained us to do. The turning driver fully stopped and waited as the law requires, until I finally decided to continue past him.

    There are a lot more people walking around this city than driving trucks: we’re in a prison of our own making. We could have the same goods delivered with less danger and less terror, just like people in Berlin. Instead we pride ourselves on being street-smart enough to survive deadly streets, and even expect the same of children. This self-preservation works until it doesn’t, when you’re a 73 year old trying to cross Ocean Parkway.

    We all do our level best not to die in our man-made hostile environment, but I think the more helpful tip is to step up the political agitation until government responds as it should.

  • Joe R.

    That bill sets an awful precedent. Localities should be allowed to regulate the size and types of vehicles which are allowed within their borders. NYC has good reasons for not allowing large trucks. Down the road, we should seriously consider banning vehicles which aren’t zero emissions once such vehicles become mainstream. And perhaps we should ban private cars altogether from parts of the city. A bill like this wouldn’t allow us to do anything. The bill is basically saying to city residents tough luck, but you’re stuck with whatever drives on your streets, even if it’s a double-bottom with 2 53-foot trailers.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Some people might need what was in this trailer, but nobody needed it to be driven into the city by a studio apartment on ten wheels. That’s a ridiculous american problem that needs to be stopped.

    This is the style of truck that literally every other country in the world used to haul a trailer. Note the total lack of protruding engine bay.

  • 55 foot rule to disappear?

    Maybe Streetsblog should interview the bill sponsor? I wonder what his motivation is?

  • Hilda

    I disagree. The changes that will come from the failed balcony railing will affect every single building over a certain height with balconies, in NYC. The changes will include increased financial liability/fines for the building owners, and possibly changes to the mandated Local Laws for inspection for these buildings. Nothing gets changed in this city unless there is a fine or financial incentive to make the changes.
    If the company/driver of this truck was fined $5,000 initially, and then another $1,000 per month per truck that did not comply, there would be changes.
    Making a fuss is important, but backing it up with actual policy that pushes for incentives to comply with the law is imperative.

  • Robert

    Actually, it’s very likely that no one in the borough of Manhattan needed what was in the truck and the driver was just saving on tolls to get from Long Island to points north. 60th st westbound is where trucks from the Queensboro Bridge get dumped off the bridge — 3rd Ave is then the first right you can make uptown which takes you right to the free crossings into the Bronx.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    I didn’t mean to conceded that it was necessary for this trailer to be in this place. I agree there are stupid economic incentives. It’s also typical for a large trailer to be packed with multiple small palettes that could have been delivered by multiple smaller trucks, to save tolls and driver costs.

  • Matthias

    I’ve thought about this whenever I see a truck driver struggling to maneuvre an oversized vehicle around my neighborhood. A few weeks ago, someone driving a full-size tractor trailer tried to make a right turn from E 126th St onto Park Av, stopping just short of running into a Metro-North support column and crushing a parked car. He just sat there, unable to go forward or backward. I don’t know what such an enormous truck was doing there, but tractor trailers should be strictly limited in where they can go (and those limits communicated clearly to drivers when planning their route). We should really allow only small trucks in the city.

  • Matthias

    I’ve thought about this whenever I see a truck driver struggling to maneuvre an oversized vehicle around my neighborhood. A few weeks ago, someone driving a full-size tractor trailer tried to make a right turn from E 126th St onto Park Av, stopping just short of running into a Metro-North support column and crushing a parked car. He just sat there, unable to go forward or backward. I don’t know what such an enormous truck was doing there, but tractor trailers should be strictly limited in where they can go (and those limits communicated clearly to drivers when planning their route). We should really allow only small trucks in the city.

  • Herbert Schwartz

    Please look into the Hit and Run in Mt Sinai, New York on July 23,2013
    Karen Benjamin passed away due to this Hit and Run

  • Herbert Schwartz

    Not only the laws about trucks should be changed. Hit and run ‘s should have higher degree of punishment. Check KAREN BENJAMIN , Mt. Sinai, New York, Hit and Run, by 31 year old man out on probation for drunkiness and robbery.
    Check the New York Papers for Hit and Run. KAREN was hit, July 23rd, and passed away 3 l/2 weeks later, leaving 2 wonderful daugters 25 and 27, a elderly mohter and farther, a brother and many close cousins and friends.
    The man who hit her is now in jail , no bail allowed, next court date Sept. 9th
    KARENs DNA was on his car in his mother’s back yard, very close to the accident. Check news files for the horrible tragity.

  • Maryanne Pribulka

    Stock up early on Christmas gifts. We truck drivers will be boycotting your city after Black Friday. See how much you don’t need what we have!

  • Ian Turner

    This is a straw man. Nobody is saying there should be no trucks in the city, just that they should be sized appropriately for the urban environment and that they should be made as safe as possible.

  • Ian Turner

    Whoops, apologies, replied to the wrong message!

    (Mods, please delete this and the previous post).

  • Ian Turner

    This is a straw man. Nobody is saying there should be no trucks in the
    city, just that they should be sized appropriately for the urban
    environment and that they should be made as safe as possible.

  • greggzuk

    NYC needs boats, rail, and trikes to move goods about our town – not semi tractor trailers, toxic box trucks, and the like. Yes, Guest – boycott NYC ASAP. Thank you in advance!

  • avon

    As to the truck that the article says had killed a 73-year-old “on” Ocean Parkway:
    You can’t drive onto Ocean Parkway – at least, not from where the BQE and Prospect Expressway dump all their traffic onto it – without passing under big overhead highway signs that say “All Trucks Exit Here.”
    No truck of any kind is allowed on any parkway in NY State. And this site has “truck route” and NY State Route 27 signs directing non-parkway traffic from the exit ramp to the appropriate avenue.

    Truly blatant violation here. But no one seems to really care unless it’s the Northern State where a tractor-trailer gets wedged under a bridge and delays a lot of Long Island bigwigs in gridlock for an hour. …

  • dale

    How do you report trucking company for this I can’t find any phone number of anybody that gives a f*** but everybody’s got a paying job down there what is wrong send me numbers please they are taking down heavy material for in the morning coming back through the city at about 8 or 8:30 James Dipietro incorporated three or four trucks a day bringing back waste material from IROC Evergreen Recycling in Corona not such good s*** to be trucking through that City

  • The length limit ought to be 72 feet like in the entire rest of the US. Someday it would be far better and far less-expensive if NYC peds and bicyclists can get the hang out of living around trucks in common use all over the US, Canada, and Mexico. No wonder your cost of living is so high, more than double that of Chicago’s where such trucks are legal on city streets. 53-foot truck trailers have been legal all over the US since 1986.


The Simple Change to Truck Design That Can Save Lives

When someone is struck by a turning truck driver in New York City, the worst injuries are typically caused when the vehicle’s back wheels run over the victim. Amar Diarrassouba, Ngozi Agbim, Noshat Nahian, Jessica Dworkin, and Renee Thompson were among the New Yorkers run over by the rear wheels of large trucks in recent years.  Large trucks designed […]

Truck Driver Kills Maria Minchala, 63, in Washington Heights Crosswalk

A truck driver killed a woman in a Washington Heights crosswalk Wednesday night — the second pedestrian fatally struck by New York City motorists yesterday. Maria Minchala was crossing at Broadway east to west at W. 165th Street, near New York-Presbyterian Hospital, at around 8:45 p.m. when the driver, turning right onto Broadway, struck her with a flatbed truck, […]

The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs and beyond. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage. We are publishing an abridged format this week and will return to the full format next Friday. Fatal Crashes (2 killed this […]