The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, which is under the control of Governor Andrew Cuomo, is responsible for keeping dangerous drivers off the roads. Yet the DMV has been without a leader for nearly three years.
This week’s deadly bus collision in Queens may have resulted from a flaw in the way the DMV issues commercial licenses, but the agency has refused to provide answers to the press.
According to media reports, the bus driver who caused Monday’s crash, Raymond D. Mong, was arrested after wrecking his personal vehicle in Connecticut in 2015. The Daily News and the Times said Mong lost his license when he was convicted of DWI and leaving the scene.
According to the News, the Connecticut DMV notified New York State DMV, and Mong was subsequently fired from his job driving a bus for the MTA.
That didn’t stop Mong from getting a job with Dahlia Group, which owned the bus he was driving when he slammed into a Q20 bus at a high rate of speed, killing three people, including himself, and injuring several others.
Accounts conflict as to how someone with Mong’s driving record was allowed to operate a bus. The Times reported that, according to the National Transportation Safety Board, Mong was “properly licensed in New York.” Mong’s attorney told the Times “there was no condition of probation that would have specifically prohibited him from having or maintaining a commercial driver’s license.”
New York DMV spokesperson Tiffany Portzer said Dahlia violated state law by not informing the agency that Mong was driving buses for the company — but Portzer didn’t tell the Times Mong was driving illegally. She “declined to explain further,” the Times reported.
If Mong had a valid license to drive a bus, as the NTSB and Mong’s attorney indicated, the DMV bears some responsibility for Monday’s crash.
The DMV has a history of shirking its safety mission. The agency relies on motorists to self-report medical conditions, such as epilepsy, that could affect their ability to drive. Based on the number of people killed in NYC alone by drivers who allegedly or admittedly neglected to take medication as required, the DMV policy isn’t working. Yet the agency continues to use the honor system to identify drivers with potentially dangerous medical issues.
Despite the agency’s important role, the job of DMV commissioner is treated as a patronage position.
Appointed in 2011, former Broome County executive Barbara Fiala is known as the DMV chief who was caught driving 47 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone. On Fiala’s watch, the DMV had to be shamed into holding required safety hearings for drivers who killed people. When traffic violence victims requested a meeting to discuss DMV safety reforms, Fiala couldn’t be bothered to show up. With Cuomo in charge, it was during Fiala’s tenure that the DMV wanted to allow drivers to “self-certify” eye exams before public blowback forced the agency to abandon the idea.