Sammy’s Law passed: Queens leaders hail new legislation enabling NYC to lower speed limits for safer streets

sammy's law
Photo courtesy of Jessica González-Rojas’ office

Queens Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas and State Senator John Liu joined community advocates Tuesday to celebrate the passage of Sammy’s Law, a legislation that allows for New York City to determine its own speed limits, in the latest New York State budget.

Photo courtesy of John Liu’s office

The legislation is meant to help reduce traffic fatalities in the city, as they have recently been on the rise in Queens. The passage of Sammy’s Law also comes months after the Western Queens Street Safety Plan was released by González-Rojas, in partnership with Council Member Tiffany Cabán, State Senator Kristen Gonzalez and Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani. The plan cited Sammy’s Law as a main priority to help reduce the growing amount of deaths among pedestrians and cyclists in western Queens.

Photo courtesy of John Liu’s office

The law got its namesake from Sammy Cohen Eckstein, who was killed by a driver in 2013 at 12 years old. The celebration of this law’s inclusion in the budget occurred at Allison Hope Liao Way, at the corner of Main Street and Cherry Avenue in Flushing, where three-year-old Allison Hope Liao was killed in 2013 by a distracted driver.

State Senator John Liu addresses the crowd during the celebration of the passage of Sammy’s Law. Photo courtesy of John Liu’s office

“Too many lives have been lost to traffic violence, including those of young children, because our laws do not protect them,” Liu said. “Sammy Cohen Eckstein, Allison Hope Liao, Quintas Chen, Bayron Palomino Arroyo and too many others were all young lives full of promise who were unfairly taken too soon. In a big city like New York, drivers need to slow down. The passage of Sammy’s Law this month is a testament to their legacies, and we now call on the City of New York to act with the same urgency and implement these changes so no more families have to endure the heartbreak of losing a loved one to preventable traffic violence.”

Allison Hope Liao’s mother, Amy Tam Liao, founded the organization Families for Safe Streets in 2014 to address traffic violence in New York City. The organization promotes life-saving changes and provides support to those who were impacted by crashes.

“Reduced speed limits save lives – and Sammy’s Law will protect countless New Yorkers from traffic violence,” Amy Tam Liao said. “Finally, New York City will be able to set its own speed limits. When I lost my daughter, Allison, the loss tore a hole in my family, my neighborhood and my community. Every day, I remember her laughter and her spirit, taken from us far too soon. We must protect our youngest and most vulnerable from traffic violence, and Sammy’s Law must be implemented immediately and appropriately.”

Sammy’s Law allows the city to reduce its speed limits from 25 miles per hour to 20 and from 15 miles per hour to 10 in slow zones. Roads with at least three lanes going in the same direction will stay at 25 miles per hour in every borough of New York City other than Manhattan.

“Sammy’s Law is a game changer for street safety because it will finally allow New York City to set its own speed limits,” State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal, lead sponsor of Sammy’s Law, said. “In 2020, I introduced this common-sense traffic safety legislation in memory of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, a young man who was fatally struck by a speeding driver just months before his thirteenth birthday. Since Sammy’s tragic death, his mother, Amy Cohen, has been a relentless champion for street safety through the organization she co-founded, Families for Safe Streets, and has inspired dozens of other family members who’ve lost loved ones to traffic violence to advocate for new traffic policies to save lives. New Yorkers owe them a deep debt of gratitude for helping change the paradigm of traffic safety in Albany.”

Through the first four months of 2024, there have been approximately 60 traffic deaths in New York City, including 20 in Queens, according to González-Rojas. This marks one of the borough’s most dangerous years since the launch of Vision Zero in 2014. Over the last two years, more than half of the children killed by vehicles in New York City were in Queens.

“It’s long past time we take back our streets from speeding drivers and deliver justice to the grieving families of Sammy Cohen Eckstein, Allison Hope Liao, Quintas Chen, Bayron Palomino Arroyo and too many others,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “That’s exactly what the long overdue passage of Sammy’s Law, allowing New York City to finally set its own speed limits, will help us do. I couldn’t be more grateful for the tireless advocacy of groups like Families for Safe Streets, who have turned their pain into progress, and for the work of all our elected partners to get this badly needed bill passed into law.”

Pedestrians are four times more likely to be killed by a vehicle going 30 miles per hour than one going 25 miles per hour, according to a study by the transportation safety nonprofit Transportation Alternatives. The study also found that lower speed limits in the city have already led to a 36% decrease in pedestrians killed.

Additionally, lowering speeds from 25 to 20 miles per hour results in a 14% decrease in injurious crashes, as well as a 31% drop in injuries for drivers and passengers, according to the DOT.

For González-Rojas, Sammy’s Law hits close to home. She suffered a broken arm after being struck by a vehicle last January. In March, she wrote an op-ed calling for the passage of Sammy’s Law. Shortly after publishing the op-ed, she took part in a march calling for safer streets in Queens.

“I’m elated that we were able to include Sammy’s Law in the state budget. As someone who has been hit by a car I know the trauma that this can cause for those of us that may be lucky to walk away from a crash,” González-Rojas said. “But this victory is for all of the loved ones who we have lost and were not able to make it back home. It is for Sammy and his mother, Amy Cohen, who has fought relentlessly for this moment. It is for Bayron Palomino Arroyo, a child from East Elmhurst we recently lost to traffic violence. It is for Dolma Naadhun, a child from Astoria who was killed in a crash while crossing the street with her family in Astoria. I’m so grateful to Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and all of my colleagues, who joined the efforts to get this done. There is nothing more important than keeping our neighbors safe and I will continue to advocate to make that a reality for all of our children and families.”

The law’s passage was also celebrated by local nonprofit organizations like the Chinese-American Planning Council and the South Asian Fund For Education Scholarship and Training (SAFEST) Inc.

“The Chinese-American Planning Council celebrates the passing of Sammy’s Law in the state budget,” Chinese-American Planning Council President and CEO Wayne Ho said. “This is a testament to our shared dedication to safety and equity for our communities. We thank the Governor’s Office and State Legislature for prioritizing the well-being of children, youth and their families.”

“Being a part of the SAFE Coalition makes me proud to stand for Safe Streets,” SAFEST CEO Mazeda Uddin said. “If the 20-mile speed limit was passed before 2013, many others could have been saved, like Sammy, Mohammed Saad, Nazmul Ahsan, and many others. Thanks to all of our New York State representatives, including New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, for their hard work.”