A public safety crisis, council members demand mayor take action on illegal dirt bikes

Dirt bikes and ATVs have posed a problem for city officials in their efforts to crack down. The issue reached a low point last month when a 4 year-old was critically injured by one.

From popping wheelies, to driving recklessly and riding on sidewalks, illegal dirt bikes and ATVS have wreaked havoc on NYC streets. As a result, members of the City Council are demanding the mayor take immediate action.

Through Aug. 14, a total of 1,682 dirt bikes, ATVs, mopeds, scooters and motorcycles have been seized in 2021, according to the NYPD. The issue reached a tipping point in July, when 4-year-old Jonathan Beauchamp was hit by a dirt bike in Queens and left in critical condition.

In response, Councilman Mark Gjonaj, a Democrat, announced legislation, “Jonathan’s Law,” on July 15 that would double the fines and penalties — from $500-$1,000 for a first and $750-$1,500 thereafter — on individuals that recklessly operate dirt bikes and off-road vehicles.

However, the lawmaker has continued to watch these illegal bikes run rampant throughout the city and wants his legislation passed and signed into law now. On Aug. 19, he sent a letter along with 23 council colleagues, demanding Mayor Bill de Blasio use his executive authority to immediately enact “Jonathan’s Law.”

City elected officials are calling on the mayor to take executive action to curb the use of illegal dirt bikes.

“Today we call on the mayor to use executive power, not to wait for legal process to sort itself out and to immediately take action as we combat this public health and safety issue,” Gjonaj said at an Aug. 19 press conference. “These dirt bikes and ATVs for the first quarter of the year have already led to eight fatalities and 350 injuries, that doesn’t include the 4-year-old, which this bill is being named after.”

Police are only able to seize the bikes if they are tipped off about where one is or if a driver is refueling at a gas station. However, if a bike is used in a violent crime such as a carjacking, then police are allowed to pursue.

The District 13 councilman said he understands the NYPD is in a tough spot, but hopes the legislation would deter some people from operating illegal vehicles. He pointed out that not only dirt bike riders speeding, but they weave in and out of traffic, drive on sidewalks and pose a danger to pedestrians and drivers.

Gjonaj told the Bronx Times he has never before seen so many dirt bikes on the roads. These motorists are putting people’s lives at stake and the mayor must act now, he shouted.

“There’s no reason to delay [the executive action],” he said. “This will make NYC safe. We need to be able to pursue and allowed to apprehend these illegal dirt bikes.”

Illegal dirt bikes are seen often on Fordham Road and the Grand Concourse.

One of the elected officials who signed onto the letter was Democrat Councilman Eric Dinowitz. Dinowitz, who represents District 11, shared Gjonaj’s anger about the dirt bikes and added that not only are they a danger on the road, but a quality-of-life issue as well. People should able to sleep peacefully at night and not be awoken by loud bikes and ATVs, Dinowitz said.

“We hear all the time how Bronxites are the toughest,” he said. “No matter how tough we are, so many New Yorkers feel a sense of chaos and lawlessness and nothing is more demonstrative of the lawlessness than the dirt bikers. That’s why we’re calling on the mayor to increase the fines and enforce the law.”

Reach Jason Cohen at jcohen@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter @bronxtimes and Facebook @bronxtimes.