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More SUVs, fewer sedans on NYC streets has advocates feeling uneasy

A speeding driver in an SUV fatally struck a woman before crashing through a construction site in Downtown Brooklyn on Dec. 4, 2019. (Alex Mitchell)

A Freedom of Information Law request with the state Department of Motor Vehicles shows how people across New York turned from smaller cars to sport utility vehicles (SUVs), raising alarm from safe streets advocates.

Transportation Alternatives, who filed the request, found that there was a 21% increase in the number of registered SUVs between 2016 and 2021, something they believe threatens the well-being of pedestrians and cyclists in the five boroughs.

But this figure is made even more alarming by the 17% decrease in the number of sedans on streets over the same period.

“Our leaders in Albany need to realize that SUVs are a serious public health problem,” said Marco Conner DiAquoi, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives. “We need to pass the entire Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act this year to combat the rise in traffic violence across the entire state. In doing so, we can become a leader nationwide in revealing the danger that SUVs pose to vulnerable road users outside of the vehicle. It is our hope that with new safety information at the point of purchase, New Yorkers can better understand how their choice of car puts their neighbors in danger.”

The Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act was recently adopted by Mayor Bill de Blasio who urged Albany legislators to approve the changes which could lower the legally accepted blood-alcohol content for drivers, lower speed limits and authorize the city to operate speed cameras 24/7, among other items.

Brooklyn and Staten Island, for example, saw a spike in SUV ownership by 25% over the last four years which Transportation Alternatives says tracks with the number of fatalities in these boroughs. For Brooklyn in 2021, so far, there have been 33 deaths and Staten Island has seen eight.

Additionally, the share of crashes proving fatal having increased 55% for cyclists and 47% for pedestrians, as data from NYC Crash Mapper shows.

“Our government puts warning labels on all sorts of dangerous products. New York State can be a nationwide leader by requiring a five-star safety rating system for new SUVs. This is one key step in our larger movement to reach Vision Zero and pass the entire Crash Victim Rights and Safety Act. While we urge automakers to build safer cars and transportation departments to build safer streets, government also must step up and respond to the growing public health problem of deadly SUVs,” said Amy Tam, the mother of a three-year-old who was killed by a motorist in Flushing.

Tam is also a member of Families for Safe Streets.

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