When a reckless driver killed an infant and injured her mother and two others in Brooklyn earlier this month, it wasn’t lost on outraged New Yorkers that the suspect's car had Pennsylvania license plates, even though he lives in Crown Heights.
He’s far from the only motorist with out-of-state plates wreaking havoc on the streets of New York City.
More than 10,000 people a year are injured, and dozens more are killed, in crashes in the city involving vehicles registered to other U.S. states and Washington, D.C., according to a Streetsblog analysis of NYPD collisiondata. Roughly 17 percent of the cars, buses, motorcycles and other vehicles involved in crashes in the city since 2019 had out-of-state plates, the data shows. An even higher portion of cars involved in fatal city crashes — 20 percent — had non-New York plates.
The findings shed light on the sheer carnage caused by drivers with out-of-state plates in the city, but city and state officials had little to say about what they are doing to tamp down on local motorists who register their cars elsewhere to avoid New York’s high car insurance rates.
“The city and the state Department of Motor Vehicles need to take a stronger look at this and get a clearer picture of it,” Marco Conner DiAquoi, the deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, said of all the out-of-state cars getting into wrecks in the city. “This should be yet another reason why New York needs to collaborate more closely with other states.”
Streetsblog’s analysis found:
The damage caused by cars with out-of-state plates has been high for years:
In 2019, more than 16,000 people were injured, and 74 were killed, in crashes involving vehicles with out-of-state plates. That's roughly 26 percent of all injuries that year, according to the data.
In 2020, 14,000 were injured and 95 were killed in crashes involving out-of-state cars — more than 31 percent of all injuries that year.
In 2021, there have already been 11,000 people injured — and 62 killed — in crashes involving cars registered elsewhere. That's nearly 34 percent of people injured in crashes so far this year.
Nearby states — New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut — are among the most common to appear on the tags of cars crashing in the city. But many far-flung states are also near the top of the list. More than 10,000 cars registered to Florida have gotten into crashes in the city since 2019. So have another 5,000 registered to Texas.
Out-of-state cars make up a growing proportion of vehicles involved in crashes in the city. In 2019, they were 16 percent of cars in city wrecks. Last year, the figure was 17 percent. So far this year, it's 19 percent.
These figures may be even higher, as the data also included nearly 100,000 vehicles involved in crashes since 2019 for which the NYPD did not list a state of registration.
It's not clear if cars with non-New York tags get into wrecks at a disproportionate rate, because no agency seems to track how many out-of-state-plated cars there are in the city in the first place.
Spokespeople for New York City and State Departments of Transportation directed questions on the topic to the state DMV. DMV spokesman Tim O’Brien said his agency does not monitor the number of cars with out-of-state plates in the city. But he said DMV investigators “work closely with law enforcement to address issues of fraud including with out-of-state plates, whether they are permanent, temporary or in-transit plates.”
It’s illegal to have your car registered elsewhere if you live in New York, but that hasn’t stopped city dwellers for decades from keeping their Michigan, South Carolina, or even Hawaii tags to skirt the state’s high insurance and sales tax rates.
DiAquoi, for his part, said he’d be hard pressed to believe that one-in-five cars in the city is registered elsewhere — roughly the proportion of crashes in the city involving cars with out-of-state plates. If the percentage is smaller, that would suggest drivers with non-New York tags are getting into crashes at a higher rate.
“It would seem odd to me that 17 or 20 percent of cars in the city are registered out of state,” he said. “I’m sure it’s much less and as a consequence they cause a disproportionately higher number of injuries and fatalities.”
What do city leaders think of all this? What do they think should be done? Tough to say. Spokespeople for Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Council Transportation Committee Chairman Ydanis Rodriguez did not respond to requests for comment. As for Mayor de Blasio, spokesman Mitch Schwartz did not answer questions on the topic from Streetsblog but instead referred us to comments the mayor made on NY1 last week:
“I would love to see that issue addressed,” de Blasio said of the prevalence of out-of-state-plated cars in the city. “In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, I see an extraordinary number of people with Vermont license plates, and I don’t believe they all live in Vermont.
“We need our partners in other states to help us," he added. "We probably need stronger penalties there, too.”
Schwartz did not respond to a follow-up question about whether the mayor was planning to do anything about the issue.
Streetsblog’s analysis is based on data from two NYPD datasets on crashes that occurred in the city between Jan. 1, 2019, and Sept. 14, 2021. Streetsblog excluded from its analysis vehicles that were identified as something other than a car, truck, bus, motorcycle, moped or other common, engine-powered vehicle. The data included around 3,700 vehicles (out of nearly 800,000) with registration codes that did not correspond to a U.S. state or Washington, D.C. The NYPD did not respond to a question about the places to which those codes correspond, so Streetsblog did not count them among vehicles with out-of-state plates.
Jesse Coburn is Streetsblog's investigative reporter. His reporting has received a Sigma Award, a Casey Feldman Award, and awards from the Silurians Press Club and the Overseas Press Club Foundation. Previously he was a reporter at Newsday and an editor at ARCH+. He’s also written for the New York Times, the Baltimore Sun, Harper’s, Cabinet and other publications. Jesse is is on Twitter at @jesse_coburn. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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