Unlicensed riders on motorbikes are dying at high rates in NYC



Motorcyclist deaths on New York City streets are surging so far this year — and the majority of the fatal victims are unlicensed and tooling around on unregistered vehicles, city officials said Tuesday.

After doubling from 25 to 51 between 2019 and 2020, motorcyclist deaths have remained high through the first nine months of 2021, Transportation Commissioner Hank Gutman testified at a city council oversight hearing.

Of those deaths, 75 percent of victims were “not properly licensed,” Gutman said. Approximately 70 percent were riding unregistered motorbikes or bikes with “unknown registration.”

“Many of these crashes didn’t even involve other motor vehicles,” Gutman testified. “They were the result of drivers speeding and losing control, often hitting a fixed object.”

Bystanders watch as EMT's and members of the FDNY attend to an injured motorcyclist at the corner of East 17th Street and Park Avenue South.
Bystanders watch as EMTs and members of the FDNY attend to an injured motorcyclist at the corner of East 17th Street and Park Avenue South near Union Square.
Sipa USA via AP

“The proliferation of new forms of motorized vehicles, while something that we applaud and commend as an alternative to the use of the private automobile, raises safety issues and regulatory issues that we must address,” he added, in reference to the recent boom in electric motorbikes of varied legality after the state legalized e-bikes and e-scooters in the start of 2020.

The city had seen 43 motorcycle fatalities this year as of Sept. 30 — roughly the “same pace” as in 2020, a DOT spokesman said.

But fatalities are not just up for motorcyclists, but for pedestrians and standard motor vehicle occupants as well, according to NYPD statistics.

Gutman acknowledged that the dire numbers defy the goal of his boss Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 2014 “Vision Zero” commitment to bring traffic deaths to zero in a decade.

A rider pops a wheelie on a motorcycle along Atlantic Avenue in the 75th precinct in the East New York neighborhood in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. In fiscal 2020, New York City police officers logged more overtime hours than any other big city in the U.S., and violent crime rates still went up.
Transportation Commissioner Hank Gutman said the majority of the deadly crash victims were “not properly licensed.”
Bloomberg via Getty Images

“There is no question that this has been a very challenging, I would say disappointing, year for Vision Zero,” Gutman said. “We have seen changes in driver behavior and crash patterns that have been echoed across the country. This is not unique to New York. We’ve checked with others. This is a nationwide trend.”

Gutman said drivers with suspended licenses are a particular problem, citing Tyrik Mott, who was busted in September for killing a 3-month-old and injuring her parents in a wrong-way hit-and-run.

“The driver was operating on a suspended license. He had a long record of offenses. He shouldn’t have been on the road, his car should not have been on the road,” he said. “These suspensions often have no effect on the drivers and they go out and drive betting that they won’t be caught.”


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