By Gretchen Berger
On Thursday, May 25, the New York City Council passed a “home rule message,” enabling “Sammy’s Law,” which has been stalled in the state legislature since its introduction in 2020, to finally pass. The Council vote was a resounding 35 to 9. If passed by the state legislature, Sammy’s Law would give New York City the ability to control its own speed limits, which are now controlled by the state. Sponsors of the bill are UWS legislators, Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, former Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, retired, and Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal.
The home rule message came from the Committee on State and Federal Legislation, chaired by City Councilmember Sean Abreu of District 7, covering part of the Upper West Side. A home rule message is the means by which a local municipality can affect state or federal law, giving it more control over various local issues. This one sends a clear message to our legislators in Albany to pass Sammy’s Law ASAP.
“Sammy Cohen Eckstein should still be with us today,” said Councilmember Abreu. “So should countless other individuals who lost their lives to vehicles traveling at unsafe speeds. This is an important — and long overdue — step to making our streets safer for New Yorkers going about their daily lives.”
What is Sammy’s Law?
Sammy’s Law is named after Samuel Cohen Eckstein, a 12-year-old boy who was tragically hit and killed in 2013 by a reckless driver while he was chasing a soccer ball into the street just steps from his home in Prospect Park West, Brooklyn. It was introduced back in December 2020, to repeal the current requirement that speed limits in NYC cannot be lower than 25 mph, or lower than 15 mph in school zones.
This bill was also in response to an uptick in traffic fatalities, which accelerated during the Covid pandemic. Last year, there were 255 traffic deaths, a 7% decline from 2021, which had been the deadliest year on record for the city. Notably, since Sammy’s death in 2013, there have been more than 2,222 people, including 96 children, killed in traffic incidents in the city.
According to the New York State Safe Streets Coalition, lowering speed limits to less than 25 mph has been shown to save lives. Researchers found that the crash rate decreases by 4%-6% for every 1 mph reduction in speed, and the fatality rate decreases by 17%. In NYC’s Neighborhood Slow Zones, which lowered the speed limit to 20 mph in concentrated areas, there was a 14% reduction in injurious crashes and a 31% reduction in injuries for both drivers and passengers. Lowering speed limits would have an impact particularly in densely populated areas, and especially near schools, senior centers, and dangerous intersections.
Passage of the Law
According to the safe streets group, Transportation Alternatives, the bill has support from both Gov. Kathy Hochul and the NYS Senate, along with Mayor Eric Adams, but still needs the approval of the NYS Assembly to be included in this year’s budget. To help its passage, a number of city officials — including Ydanis Rodriguez the transportation commissioner, along with 100 traffic safety advocates — recently “schlepped” up to Albany to meet with Assemblymember William Magnarelli (D-Syracuse), chairman of the Transportation Committee, and other key state legislators to lobby for Sammy’s Law.
The onus now shifts back to Albany to pass it before the rapidly approaching end of its session on June 8th. Assemblymember Rosenthal says that she is “hopeful” that it will now finally pass.
Meanwhile, stay tuned and look both ways before crossing!