People Are Dying Because Cuomo’s Leaderless DMV Is Failing to Regulate Dangerous Motorists

The New York State DMV, which has been without a commissioner for years, is refusing to answer questions about this week's deadly Queens bus crash.

Governor Cuomo, seen in this file photo, slammed Senate Republicans in a press conference on the day that New York City's speed cameras are set to go dark. Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr
Governor Cuomo, seen in this file photo, slammed Senate Republicans in a press conference on the day that New York City's speed cameras are set to go dark. Photo: Governor’s Office/Flickr

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, which is under the control of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is responsible for keeping dangerous drivers off the roads. Yet the DMV has been without a leader for nearly three years.

This week’s deadly bus collision in Queens may have resulted from a flaw in the way the DMV issues commercial licenses, but the agency has refused to provide answers to the press.

According to media reports, the bus driver who caused Monday’s crash, Raymond D. Mong, was arrested after wrecking his personal vehicle in Connecticut in 2015. The Daily News and the Times said Mong lost his license when he was convicted of DWI and leaving the scene.

According to the News, the Connecticut DMV notified New York State DMV, and Mong was subsequently fired from his job driving a bus for the MTA.

That didn’t stop Mong from getting a job with Dahlia Group, which owned the bus he was driving when he slammed into a Q20 bus at a high rate of speed, killing three people, including himself, and injuring several others.

Accounts conflict as to how someone with Mong’s driving record was allowed to operate a bus. The Times reported that, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, Mong was “properly licensed in New York.” Mong’s attorney told the Times “there was no condition of probation that would have specifically prohibited him from having or maintaining a commercial driver’s license.”

New York DMV spokesperson Tiffany Portzer said Dahlia violated state law by not informing the agency that Mong was driving buses for the company — but Portzer didn’t tell the Times Mong was driving illegally. She “declined to explain further,” the Times reported.

If Mong had a valid license to drive a bus, as the NTSB and Mong’s attorney indicated, the DMV bears some responsibility for Monday’s crash.

The DMV has a history of shirking its safety mission. The agency relies on motorists to self-report medical conditions, such as epilepsy, that could affect their ability to drive. Based on the number of people killed in NYC alone by drivers who allegedly or admittedly neglected to take medication as required, the DMV policy isn’t working. Yet the agency continues to use the honor system to identify drivers with potentially dangerous medical issues.

Despite the agency’s important role, the job of DMV commissioner is treated as a patronage position.

Appointed in 2011, former Broome County executive Barbara Fiala is known as the DMV chief who was caught driving 47 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone. On Fiala’s watch, the DMV had to be shamed into holding required safety hearings for drivers who killed people. When traffic violence victims requested a meeting to discuss DMV safety reforms, Fiala couldn’t be bothered to show up. With Cuomo in charge, it was during Fiala’s tenure that the DMV wanted to allow drivers to “self-certify” eye exams before public blowback forced the agency to abandon the idea.

If there’s any doubt that Cuomo doesn’t take the DMV’s responsibilities seriously: Fiala retired in 2014. In 2017, the governor still hasn’t named a successor.

  • reasonableexplanation

    a high rate of speed

    I keep seeing this used, but it’s wrong. A high rate of speed would be a high acceleration. I have no idea why cops and reporters continue to use this term, maybe just to make things sound more official? Here’s an article about this stupid term: http://jalopnik.com/stop-saying-rate-of-speed-1794417494

    Regarding the eye-test self certification, a few things to note: As of 2011, fourteen states have instituted self-certification. I’m curious if it had any measureable effect on the safety of the roads?

    Now for an anecdote: there’s two ways to get the eye exam portion of renewing a license done: go to your eye doctor and have them do it and pay your specialist copay (ouch!), or do it at the DMV. I did mine at the DMV. they had the standard eye chart behind the desk, and I was asked to read the top 3 lines, you know, the huge ones. They didn’t ask for more, and I got the impression the DMV person didn’t really care.

  • Joe R.

    Technically speaking, a high rate of change of speed would be a high rate of acceleration. The term “high rate of speed” is just plain meaningless. Speed is already a rate, namely the rate at which you cover distance. Here is how I learned it:

    speed = v = ds/dt = change in distance divided by change in time
    acceleration = a = dv/dt = change in speed divided by change in time
    jerk = j = da/dt = change in acceleration divided by change in time

  • Joe R.

    On the eye-exam self certification, I have mixed feelings on how it might impact safety. In general, the main thing you need sharp vision for while driving is to read road signs. If you already know the way, then you may well be able to get by with very subpar vision. Remember you just need to see other vehicles, and the state of their signals. That’s not hard even with lousy vision. I have 20/200 vision but safely ride a bike just fine without glasses (which would fog up and otherwise make riding less safe). I can easily see pedestrians more than a block away. Ditto for traffic signals, turn signals, etc. At highway speeds perhaps sharp vision is more critical, but for a lot of driving I question the need for 20/20.

  • Vooch

    All those years on the train did pay off 🙂

  • cjstephens

    When I renewed my license recently, instead of going to my eye doctor, I simply went to a local pharmacy where I was charged, I think, $10 to read the first few lines of the eye chart. The pharmacist then entered the data into the computer, and I was able to renew my license online without setting foot in the DMV. I’m pretty happy with the experience. Pro-tip: if you’re going this route, check for prices, as the optometrist on Lexington Avenue wanted to charge $25, but the pharmacist on First Avenue charged me much less.

    That said, yes, I agree with the thrust of the article. Safety first.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Andrew Cuomo Could (Still) Save Thousands of Lives With One Phone Call

|
On Monday Andrew Cuomo hailed DMV rule changes that have resulted in license sanctions for recidivist drunk drivers. The governor, who spearheaded the reforms himself, could also use the power of his office to take driving privileges from motorists who habitually commit other deadly violations, like speeding, which kill and injure thousands of New Yorkers every year. In 2012 Cuomo oversaw an […]

With Opening at DMV, Cuomo Has Opportunity to Lead on Street Safety

|
With the retirement of Barbara Fiala, the top position at the Department of Motor Vehicles is vacant, giving Governor Andrew Cuomo an opportunity to appoint someone who will use the state’s oversight of driver education, training, and licensing to improve street safety and prevent traffic deaths. Fiala, 70, is a Democrat who served as Broome County […]

DMV Revokes License of Driver Who Killed Allie Liao

|
Chris Robbins at Gothamist reports that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has revoked the license of Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, who struck and killed 3-year-old Allie Liao in a Queens crosswalk in 2013. The decision by administrative law judge Sidney Fuchs reinforces the importance of DMV safety hearings as a venue to ensure that reckless […]