Mayor Says He Doesn’t Know Why the ‘Reckless Driver’ Law Isn’t Saving Kids from the Deadliest Drivers

ghost strollers at city hall with de blasio
The Sept. 15 Daily News wood.
The Sept. 15 Daily News wood.

It’s like one hand doesn’t know what the other hand isn’t doing.

Mayor de Blasio on Tuesday couldn’t even tell reporters why his administration had failed to implement the long-delayed Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program, a law he signed in early 2020 that could have prevented a driver with scores of speed-camera and red-light violations from killing a 3-month-old baby over the weekend.

The mayor told a reporter during his morning press briefing that he would “find out” why the law isn’t in effect yet. The law requires drivers with 15 or more camera-issued speeding tickets or five red-light tickets in any 12-month period to take an in-person safety course or have their cars impounded by the sheriff.

Driver Tyrik Mott, who killed 3-month-old Apolline Mong-Guillemin, according to police, had 91 such violations, including 35 this year alone. And he had had multiple run-ins with law enforcement and multiple driver’s license suspensions, but nothing kept him from driving.

“This is something that I believe in fundamentally, I was proud to sign that and support that legislation,” Hizzoner told reporters, before musing that perhaps the delay stemmed from “a lot of disruption” during COVID.

Not that he was sure, of course.

“But I want to find out why this didn’t happen on a timely basis, and then give you a sharp, clear answer, because I’m a strong believer in more stringent penalties,” the mayor added.

A man makes a good point at the Union Square rally. Photo: Dave Colon
A man makes a good point at the Union Square rally. Photo: Dave Colon

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, appearing on NY1, also had no idea why drivers with records like Mott — or, frankly, Mott himself — aren’t being prevented from driving when there’s a city law to do it.

“I commend the Council for passing those laws,” Shea said. “But then what happens in terms of — you know, these are questions that have to be asked: was there follow up? Did he attend the class that he’s supposed to attend? What happens when you don’t attend that class? How many people have been subject to issues like that?”

Such comments came on a day of multiple protests against de Blasio’s handling of his signature initiative, Vision Zero, which seeks to reduce traffic fatalities, yet is struggling this year, the bloodiest of the mayor’s seven-plus-years in office. The protests included a rally at City Hall and a bigger mass event in Union Square — both featuring ghost strollers to symbolize the slaughter of the innocents.

A day earlier, anger boiled up at a press conference by incoming mayor, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, who said he was “on the front lines” of the fight for street safety.

“We have babies on the front lines, not you,” screamed a heckler.

But most of the public ire has been directed at the mayor for his failure to act with urgency on Council Member Brad Lander’s legislation, which was introduced in June, 2018 (and then called the Reckless Driver Accountability Act). The mayor kept the legislation at bay for more than a year, finally telling Streetsblog in September, 2019 that it was not a major initiative for him. Other bills, he said, were “pending most urgently.”

Next, City Hall delayed the bill, now called the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Act, by negotiating behind the scenes and then watering it down until it finally passed in February, 2020. Eight months later, or on Oct. 26, 2020, according to Lander’s office, drivers’ infractions were supposed to start counting against that 15-or-5 limit. But in May, 2020, de Blasio revealed that he would not allocate the $1.6 million needed to fund the program, which would be run by the Department of Transportation, in his $89.5-billion budget for fiscal year 2021, citing the city’s fiscal crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, in February, 2021, the de Blasio administration announced it would fund the program and issued a request for proposals to ensure that the in-person courses would start, at least according to city documents, on Sept. 15 (today). But on the day before that supposed start date, the Department of Transportation could not tell reporters when the program will actually begin.

Agency spokeswoman Alana Morales said the DOT now expects that drivers with requisite numbers of speed camera or red light violations would start getting letters this fall, with classes beginning later this year.

If those classes are ever conducted, they will be packed. According to a review of city summons data compiled by Streetsblog contributor Steve Bodzin, more than 1,000 drivers have accrued more than 26 speeding tickets in just the eight months of 2021 alone (scroll down or click “Summary Table” to see all the cars):


And at least 1,000 have accrued the required five red-light tickets:


 

But it’s unclear what steps the DOT has actually taken to get the program ready for this fall, or even by the end of this year. The agency did indeed put out a Request for Expressions of Interest this spring in order to select a provider to host the mandatory in-person courses that would be offered in all five boroughs and would be designed to confront reckless drivers with the danger they cause through a series of discussions with victims and defensive driving re-education.

But according to paperwork for this particular RFEI, the agency would evaluate of the responses and then “enter into a contract for a demonstration of the program with one or more respondents.” It is unclear if the DOT has done that. Another part of the RFEI paperwork offered answers to hypothetical questions that a would-be program operator might have.

One question revealed exactly why no car drivers have received letters requiring their attendance at a safe-driving class:

Q: Who is responsible for the initial outreach to the driver to notify them of their eligibility to complete the program? (The provider or DOT?) Is there a prescribed method required for such communication (e.g., Postal mail, phone, email, etc.)?
A: The course provider will send the notices.

Reminder: No course provider has been announced by DOT, meaning that the notices can’t go out.

The mayor’s heedless non-answer to the preventable death of a baby fueled yet a second day of protests and vigils for little Apolline, and the dozens of victims killed by reckless drivers before her.

“Where is the action, where is the urgency? Instead it’s advocates who have to stand here time and time again. We have commitments for years in the future, when we need action now,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris outside City Hall, where activists staged ghost strollers — the first of two protests on Tuesday. “Mayor de Blasio, New Yorkers are dying on your streets, we need you to act now.”

Later that day, hundreds protested in Union Square to demand the mayor make his own streets safer, and finally get up and running the long-delayed program to get drivers like Mott off the road.

“What are we waiting for? We know the problem. We know who’s committing it. We passed the law to give us the framework to try to solve the problem. I don’t know what the reasons are they’re not doing it,” said activist Brian Howald, whose Howsmydriving website allows anyone to search the driving record of any car.

— with Gersh Kuntzman

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