On a Saturday evening at about 8:30 p.m. last August, Murielle Gousse, a 44-year old resident of Belmont, who was the mother of two, was walking along Fordham Road with a friend. As Ms. Gousse attempted to cross Fordham Road at Morris Avenue, a few blocks from her home, a BMW sedan came suddenly speeding east along Fordham Road — she and her friend were both hit. Despite the best efforts of first responders, she was declared dead at St. Barnabas Hospital, leaving behind a stunned and grieving family. Meanwhile, the driver of the BMW that struck her fled the scene — another high-speed hit-and-run crash that has become too prevalent during the pandemic.
Across the country, high-speed crashes have increased dramatically over the past two years; it is an urgent national public health crisis that experts believe may be at least partially due to fewer recreational outlets. In the Bronx, we had already seen a disturbing upturn in high-speed driving during the pandemic — especially overnight and on weekends. As New York City has started to recover and open up, the bad habits and consequences of overnight speeding have been very hard to break.
While the NYPD was able to make an arrest in Ms. Gousse’s death last November, we need more tools to help prevent deadly crashes like this one. This tragic incident happened within one of the 750 school zones citywide that are protected by school speed zone cameras. However, because of a state law that limits cameras’ operation to 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. on weekdays, the cameras nearest to the crash were turned off that weekend night. That is why we – a state senator and a senior official in the administration of Mayor Eric Adams — have joined together to call on the state Legislature to change that law, and grant New York City full local control of traffic laws governing automated enforcement.
Since the start of the pandemic, the number of deaths that happen when speed cameras are turned off has surged — and now represent 60% of all fatalities. Prior to the pandemic, deaths during those hours represented fewer than half of fatalities.
We know speed cameras save lives, as they reduce speeding by more than 70% in school zones – where we have seen traffic injuries decline by 14%. While cameras cannot and do not prevent every fatal crash, they clearly create a culture of accountability for drivers that makes our streets measurably safer. We need to expand that protection, including greater control of where these cameras can be located.
Under the leadership of Speaker Carl Heastie, Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Gov. Kathy Hochul, we have an enormous opportunity to make our streets safer. Changing these state laws will not bring crash victims like Murielle Gousse back, but they could prevent more lives from being needlessly lost on our streets in the years ahead.
Gustavo Rivera represents the state’s 33rd Senate District in the Bronx, including Belmont. Ydanis Rodriguez is New York City’s transportation commissioner.