Op-ed: Sammy’s Law must pass this year – A legislator’s personal encounter

JGR Safe Streets 2
Photo provided by the office of Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas

It could have been anyone, but on January 4th, it was me.

One second I was crossing 35th Avenue in Jackson Heights to meet friends for dinner, my feet between two white stripes of the crosswalk, and the next, I was lying on the ground, my arm throbbing and my knees scraped. I’d done everything “right”: waiting until I had the right-of-way, carefully crossing, watching for cars – but in the end it didn’t matter. A driver still hit me, throwing my body to the pavement.

The crash left me badly bruised and disoriented. I had a broken arm, but I felt lucky. I felt grateful to walk away with my life – especially when so many New Yorkers weren’t as lucky as I was. Not even a month later or a mile away from my crash, a hit-and-run driver killed a 61-year-old woman from my neighborhood.

The doctors and nurses at Elmhurst Hospital took incredible care of me and wrapped my arm in a cast. After eight hours in the hospital, and finally back in my own home, I couldn’t stop thinking about all of the mothers, fathers, parents, and children who never made it back. The next day while on the phone with my chief of staff I realized the shock and fear had caught up with me – this could have been worse. Last year, car crashes killed over 250 New Yorkers – and this year, we know that number could include any one of us or our loved ones.

Four days later, I was back in Albany working, but I couldn’t shake the memory of that night. I couldn’t even go a few hours without being reminded of the crash; not when brushing on mascara, pulling a shirt over my head, and just opening the front door of my office brought instant pain. This could have been worse.

My doctors told me I had a long road to full physical recovery, that included over a month in a cast and three of physical therapy. Working towards a full recovery will take even longer. My muscles tense every time I have to cross the street, and when I’m walking with others, I often find myself reaching for their arm to cross. My breath catches when I hear the sound of car tires on the pavement.

Lower speed limits may have prevented the loss of life for hundreds of victims of car violence – and can certainly prevent other crashes and deaths throughout Queens. Unfortunately, New York City still doesn’t have the legal right to set its own speed limits. Sammy’s Law can and will change this, and we must include the legislation in this year’s budget.

We’ve been pushing for Sammy’s Law for years, and Albany can’t keep stalling. The status quo is deadly. Even just slightly lower speeds can make a big difference: a pedestrian is four times more likely to be killed by a car going 30 mph than one traveling 25mph. Safer speeds work. Slowing from 30 mph to 25 reduces the chance of a fatal crash by 78%, and lowering speeds from 25 to 20 mph has led to a 14% reduction in injurious crashes and a 31% reduction in injuries for both drivers and passengers. Lower speed limits in New York City have already contributed to a 36% decline in pedestrians killed.

Sammy’s Law is critical legislation, and New Yorkers can’t wait. Both Governor Hochul and the State Senate have shown leadership on this, and included legislation for lower speed limits in their proposed budgets, but we still need to include it in the final budget.

My heart aches for the family and loved ones of every neighbor our community has lost to traffic violence. This could be anyone, and data shows it has been too many of us. This is the year for the Assembly to show leadership on this issue. Let’s pass Sammy’s Law before anyone else is hurt.

Photo provided by the office of Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas

* New York State Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas represents the 34th Assembly District, which includes Astoria, Corona, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, and Woodside in Queens.