‘The loss of an innocent baby as well as five other individuals in just one weekend is more heartbreaking evidence that New York City’s lame efforts to protect its people from arrogant, irresponsible, and entitled automobile drivers has been an epic failure.’
Six people were killed and five more injured in violent crashes with automobiles on New York City streets and roadways over the weekend of Sept. 11. In one particularly harrowing incident Saturday, a family of three, including a three-month old baby girl in a stroller, were out for an early evening walk in Brooklyn when a speeding car going the wrong way slammed into both the caregivers and the stroller. The infant was ejected from the stroller, and rushed to Brooklyn Hospital where she died 90 minutes after the crash. Her name was Apolline Mong-Guillemin.
Streetsblog NYC reported that police arrested a Pennsylvania-registered Honda’s driver, who had been speeding eastbound on the one-way portion of Gates between Vanderbilt Avenue and Fulton Street before he slammed into another car that was heading northbound on Vanderbilt. The crash sent both cars into the family. The parents are expected to survive.
Police said the two people in the car that caused the crash tried to run from the scene. Officers eventually caught 28-year-old Tyrik Mott, who was apprehended as he allegedly tried to steal another car according to WCBS.
It turns out that Mott’s 2017 Honda Civic had racked up 160 traffic violations since mid 2017 attached to its Pennsylvania license plates—which were photographed by reporter Liam Quigley. That includes 91 tickets for speeding in a school zone and 13 times the car’s driver ran past a red light.
The loss of an innocent baby as well as five other individuals in just one weekend is more heartbreaking evidence that New York City’s lame efforts to protect its people from arrogant, irresponsible, and entitled automobile drivers has been an epic failure.
As of Sept. 12, 188 people had been killed in traffic violence in 2021. Since Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, traffic violence has killed more than 1,800 people, according to Transportation Alternatives, an organization advocating for safe, equitable streets.
Automobile drivers in New York City continue to flex their muscle and privilege from community boards to city hall and onto Albany as they block legislation, policy, and street redesigns that could save the lives of countless pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike.
Both city and state leaders express alarm and shed public tears over the carnage on our streets while simultaneously sitting on their hands as proposed street redesign, tougher enforcement measures, and policy changes collect dust. Their inaction reinforces the frustrating truth that for now, city streets—our largest public spaces—are primarily for automobiles.
For example, the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement (Reckless Driver) bill Mayor de Blasio signed into law back in February 2020 allows the city to seize vehicles with five red-light camera or 15 speed camera violations within a 12-month period, unless the operator completes a driver safety course.
It stands to reason that if the law were active or being enforced, the driver of the Honda Civic that killed the infant in Brooklyn wouldn’t have been driving. But it turns out, the law didn’t get full funding until one full year later in February 2021.
“From babies to teachers to police officers, no one is immune to the dangers of a city that continues to prioritize the convenience of drivers over saving human lives,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris said in a press release after the awful incident. “This driver should not have been on the road, period.”
Harris is urging Mayor de Blasio to fight back concretely against the wave of traffic violence and hit-and-runs with street redesigns that prevent reckless drivers from causing tragedy in the first place. Transportation Alternatives supports the vision of NYC25x25, which would repurpose 25 percent of city streets to better use by 2025. The plan includes opening more streets to pedestrians, transit riders and cyclists, redesigning dangerous corridors and building safer streets across every corner of the city.
That said, enforcement and potentially harsh legal repercussions for dangerous drivers should be part of the mix as well. But the city is beholden to the state when it comes to expanding enforcement tools such as speed cameras or lowering speed limits. Speed kills, and speed especially kills pedestrians.
That the state has essentially prevented the city from installing speed cameras—a proven speed deterrent— on every street, intersection and highway throughout the five boroughs is an abject travesty. More infuriating, the existing cameras, placed around some public schools, can only operate from 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. on weekdays.
In June, the New York State Assembly failed to pass the Crash Victims Rights & Safety Act—a suite of bills intended to combat rampant speeding on city streets, incentivize the purchase of safer vehicles, hold reckless drivers accountable, work to combat impaired driving, protect the city’s most vulnerable street users, and support those personally impacted by crashes.
Among the bills that failed was Sammy’s Law—named for 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was killed by a reckless driver in Brooklyn in 2013—which would repeal the state provision that forbids New York City from setting speed limits below 25 miles per hour. The bill failed because the chair of the Assembly’s Transportation Committee, Bill Magnarelli of Syracuse, did not advance any of these measures through his committee.
In a truly progressive state, a state led by leaders with compassion who cared about equity and the safety of all its citizens and not just the convenience of automobile drivers, the suite of bills from this past summer—including Sammy’s Law—would have passed. There would have been enough momentum from New York City’s state representatives alone to get the legislative job done. That did not happen and New Yorkers will continue to die because of their failure and hypocrisy.
While New York State has some of the nation’s toughest gun control laws, we continue to allow individuals with countless red flag violations, from speeding to running traffic lights, to operate a fast moving two-to-three-ton machine that’s capable of crushing human bones on impact.
New Yorkers witness or read about countless horrific, violent deaths and life-changing injuries caused by automobile violence on our streets practically every day. We have been conditioned to believe the menace posed by reckless or speeding drivers is simply one of the risks in navigating city streets. But it doesn’t have to be as dangerous and chaotic as it is right now. The momentum of an outraged public will help usher in more safe streets in New York City. It’s past time for New Yorkers to demand that city and state leaders make safer streets an urgent priority. Lives are at stake.
Cody Lyon is a New York City-based journalist.