June 27, 2023 By Bill Parry
Armed with a new study that details the carnage on New York City streets caused by divers of SUVs and other large vehicles, Astoria Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani and Brooklyn state Senator Andrew Gounardes announced new legislation that would increase the registration fees for oversized personal vehicles.
The lawmakers were joined by safe streets advocates at the intersection where 7-year-old Dolma Naadhum was struck and killed by the driver of a Ford Explorer who allegedly blew through a stop sign and struck the schoolgirl who was walking with her mother and sister in February.
The Transportation Alternatives report illustrates how large personal vehicles — which are growing ever more popular in New York City — are seriously harming New Yorkers and damaging roads and bridges across the city and state.
“Larger and heavier vehicles carry a great cost for New Yorkers; they are more likely to kill pedestrians in a crash,” Mamdani said near a memorial to the schoolgirl at the corner of Newtown Road and 45th Street. “This legislation makes the currently invisible costs of a heavier vehicle — for New Yorkers’ lives, for the environment and for our infrastructure — visible. The crisis of vehicle deaths in our city is not inevitable; it is a result of how we design our streets and the cars we incentivize to be on our roads.”
The report shows that small children are most vulnerable to oversized vehicles. Between 2014 and 2019, nearly half of the children killed on NYC streets were struck by the drivers of SUVs or other large vehicles and, in 2022, the number increased to 80%.
“Like many of my fellow colleagues, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of unsafe streets and traffic violence; this year, I lost one of my constituents, 7-year-old Dolma Naadhun, when she was struck by a large vehicle while crossing the street with her mother, who witnessed her tragic death,” Assemblywoman Jessica González-Rojas said. “Too many New Yorkers have lost loved ones because of our inaction on traffic violence. I join my colleagues and all the advocates here today in celebrating the introduction of this new legislation that will tax heavier and larger vehicles at higher rates. This bill will be good for the environment and will help keep our streets more safe for pedestrians and cyclists.”
The TA study determines that for every 1,000-pound increase in vehicle weight, there is a 46% increase in motorist-caused fatalities. Additionally, road damage increases exponentially as vehicles become heavier, so a GMC Hummer EV, weighing 9,063 pounds, causes 116 times as much road damage as a Honda Civic, weighing 2,762 pounds.
“The race to design ever larger vehicles has come with disastrous consequences for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike, not to mention increased wear and tear on our infrastructure,” state Senator Michael Gianaris said. “It is important for drivers who want these oversized vehicles to contribute according to the social harms they cause.”
Despite their outsized harms, New York state’s registration fee structure does not accurately reflect the impact of weight and size. The report argues for an adjustment of the already existing vehicle weight fee to make it more representative of the varying danger and damage caused by lighter and smaller vehicles – just as Washington, D.C., has already done. Under the proposed legislation, the fee would follow a sliding scale, so owners of small vehicles would pay less than they do today, while owners of larger, heavier vehicles would have to pay additional fees for their vehicles’ outsized negative impact.
“The heavier a car is, the deadlier it is — it’s a simple fact of physics,” Gounardes said. “And the heavier a car is, the more it degrades our roads and pollutes our environment, too. This bill is a clear and straightforward way to address the heightened dangers heavier cars pose to New Yorkers they share the road with, as well as the heightened impact they have on our city itself.”
Transportation Alternatives executive director Danny Harris thanked Mamdani and Gounardes for introducing the bill.
“Each year, our cars become heavier, bigger, and deadlier,” Harris said. “These supersized vehicles are killing more New Yorkers than ever before, while also causing massive damage to streets and bridges. Our leaders can’t sit idly by while more and more New Yorkers choose massive cars – they must incentivize and support purchasing smaller, lighter vehicles.”
Elke Weiss, a member of Families for Safe Streets, summed it up best.
“My grandfather was the strongest person I knew. He survived the Holocaust, two wars and cancer, but the high weight of an SUV created a lethal force that ended his life,” Weiss said. “I’m asking lawmakers to feel the weight I carry every single day and take steps to make sure no one else feels this terrible impact by cars that are as dangerous and weigh as much as a rhino.”