Gounardes Seeks State Rating System to Reflect the Danger of Cars — To People Outside Them

Why is this legal? File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Why is this legal? File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

A Brooklyn lawmaker wants the state to create a database that rates cars on how safe they are for people outside of them — to both encourage consumers to purchase vehicles less likely to kill their neighbors and to get insurers to charge more for policies on dangerous assault cars.

State Senator Andrew Gounardes will unveil that bill as part of a trio of new safety initiatives on Friday in Bay Ridge.

The database, which would be publicly accessible and built by the state Department of Motor Vehicles, would rate vehicles on a scale of one to five stars based on such criteria as “frequency of collisions involving a bicyclist or pedestrian compared to the total number of registrations of that vehicle model in New York” and safety features in each vehicle model such as collision warning, automatic braking or pedestrian detection systems, according to a copy of the bill obtained by Streetsblog.

Gounardes said that this particular bill was in response to the increasing amount of SUVs and trucks on the road coupled with the concurrent spike in pedestrian and cyclist deaths.

“In the last decade, pedestrian and cyclist deaths in the U.S. have been rising, reversing the decades-long trend of declining pedestrian and cyclist deaths,” said the first-term lawmaker. “Car manufacturers seem unwilling or unable to prevent these tragedies, so it’s time for states to step up. We also need to spread awareness that large vehicles like SUVs or trucks, unnecessary for most in the big city, are far more likely to put people at risk. Awareness is a big step forward in fighting this trend of more families being torn apart by traffic violence.”

The bill also comes as city officials are waking up to the havoc wrought by SUVs and trucks. In November, the Department of Transportation said it would track the specific number of fatal collisions caused by SUVs. A month later, the agency revealed that 41 percent of the men who were involved in fatal collisions in the city since 2018 were driving pickup trucks or SUVs.

Gounardes said the bill is needed because 25 of the 29 cyclists who were killed in 2019 “were killed by drivers behind the wheel of large trucks, buses, SUVs or vans.”

This is what a national crisis looks like.
This is what a national crisis looks like.

In addition, SUVs and other large cars are becoming increasingly safe for the drivers of the vehicles, but that safety is coming at the expense of people outside the vehicles. Indeed, the nation is in the midst of a massive increase in pedestrian deaths, from 4,100 in 2009 to more than 6,300 last year.

At the same time, the proportion of fatalities occurring outside of cars rose from a low of 20 per- cent in 1996 to a high of 34 percent in 2018.

The increasing size of pickup trucks and SUVs has also increased the size of the vehicles’ blind spots and also makes them more likely to cause a pedestrian to end up under the truck rather than be thrown clear in a crash.

If the bill becomes law, the database could have two functions: to help consumers buy safer vehicles and also force insurance companies to start charging drivers more if they choose cars that are demonstrably unsafe.

“With rising pedestrian and cyclist fatalities across the country, it is past time for action,” said Assembly Member Nily Rozic, who’s carrying the bill in the Assembly. “As a matter of consumer protection and public safety, we must ensure that vehicle safety evaluations factor in safety for all New Yorkers — not just the vehicle’s passengers so that our streets are safe for all.”

Gounardes street safety announcement, corner of 86th Street and Ridge Boulevard, March 28, noon.