DOT Wants Meeting with State DMV Head to Get Killer Drivers Off the Road 

The memorial to Apolline Mong-Guillemin. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The memorial to Apolline Mong-Guillemin. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It’s a major problem.

A large majority of drivers who have killed pedestrians this year are what city officials call “major violators” — egregious offenders whom state and city officials have repeatedly failed to get off the road — and now Department of Transportation Commissioner Hank Gutman is demanding a sit-down with his state Department of Motor Vehicles counterpart to “devise new, innovative strategies to address the problem of reckless drivers.”

In a bombshell letter sent to DMV Commissioner Mark Schroeder on Oct. 21, Gutman all but admitted that the city and state’s current approach to road safety is failing in a year with at least 220 road deaths so far this year — the highest death toll at this point in the year since de Blasio took office and unveiled Vision Zero.

The letter comes just a month after the killing of a 3-month-old baby by a reckless driver who had thousands of dollars in unpaid tickets, multiple license suspensions and arrests, and close to 100 camera-issued moving violation summonses yet was never prevented from getting behind the wheel of a car.

That crash reminded Guttman “of the limitations we encounter in ensuring that known dangerous drivers are kept off the roads,” he wrote in the letter, which Streetsblog has exclusively obtained. “Specifically, we would like to better ensure suspensions and revocations of licenses have the appropriate impact, and discuss how we can strengthen penalties for reckless behaviors that injure or kill our fellow New Yorkers in order to better deter recidivist drivers.”

Of the 94 pedestrians fatally struck by drivers so far this year, 59 percent were killed by “major violators,” meaning they either fled the scene, did not have a valid license at the time of the crash, have three or more prior convictions, or have a prior DWI or any other prior suspension, according to the DOT.

One of those “major violators” is Tyrik Mott, who cops say drove the wrong way on a Brooklyn street on Sept. 11 and crashed into another car — sending both vehicles into a family of three, killing 3-month-old Apolline Mong-Guillemin and sending her mom to the hospital with a traumatic brain injury. She remains unable to speak or move her right side, prosecutors have said. 

The Mott case is the city and state’s failure in a microcosm: his 2017 Honda Civic with Pennsylvania plates had racked up enough unpaid parking tickets to be towed away by the Sheriff — but Department of Finance officials said marshals could never find Mott’s car (an irony, given that it was caught on speed and red-light cameras 78 times since Jan. 1, 2020). City officials have said that DOT speed and red light cameras do not alert the Sheriff or the police the location of said wanted person.

Camera-issued tickets do not apply as points against one’s driver’s license, but unpaid tickets can trigger a license suspension, as Mott’s license was. But nothing physically prevented Mott from from driving. And Mott is certainly not the first person for whom a history of sanctioned reckless driving and a suspended license did not stop them from getting back in their car and killing someone, nor is baby Apolline the first victim.

Last November, an unlicensed and drunk driver ran down and killed 62-year-old Alina Morales just steps from her home on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Months before that, in May, 79-year-old Daci Zudi was biking near his home on Staten Island when he was killed by an unlicensed driver. And in December, 2019, an unlicensed truck driver killed 3-year-old Bertin DeJesus as he and his mother crossed the street with a stroller inside the crosswalk.

State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Queens) wanted to increase the penalties for unlicensed drivers who kill after a spate of fatal crashes back in 2019, introducing legislation that would raise the penalty to up to seven years behind bars. But even then, such a punishment only reacts to the crime; it does not prevent it.

A spokesperson for the DOT could not say the last time — if ever — the DOT has sent such a letter to the DMV. The DMV said it welcomes a meeting with the city.

“The DMV is committed to safe streets and safety for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians alike. We welcome any opportunity to discuss ways we work to ensure public safety on our roadways and any discussion of possible new initiatives with the DOT Commissioner,” said agency spokesperson Tim O’Brien.