NEW YORK – New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's official vehicles were spotted breaking several traffic laws on Thursday, just two days after he laid out a sweeping traffic safety plan that included harsh restrictions on reckless drivers.
De Blasio was in the front passenger seat of the lead SUV of a two-vehicle caravan that was captured on video speeding, running through a pair of stop signs and not signaling when changing lanes. The footage, which aired on WCBS-TV, was taken as de Blasio returned to City Hall after a news conference in Queens.
The mayor's press office deferred to the police department for particulars of the incident because a member of the NYPD was behind the wheel of de Blasio's SUV. But de Blasio's press secretary said that "public safety is everyone's responsibility."
"With that in mind, Mayor de Blasio is firmly committed to the traffic safety policies outlined this week," Walzak said in a statement that did not include an apology or admission of wrongdoing.
The NYPD did not address the specifics of Thursday's incident in a statement, but said members of the security detail "receive specialized training in driving based on maintaining security as well as safety." The statement spoke broadly about acceptable tactics used to keep vehicles together and said the handling of vehicles transporting any "protectee" is determined by police personnel based on "protection and professional judgment."
The footage shows de Blasio's vehicles starting their journey in a quiet residential stretch of Maspeth, where the mayor had just held a news conference discussing his administration's plans to combat potholes.
The two bulky, black vehicles did not stop at two stop signs in the neighborhood. Later, the CBS camera — which was in a car that followed the mayor's motorcade — showed de Blasio going 40 mph in an area where the speed limit was 30 mph, and then nearly 60 mph in a 45 mph zone.
The SUVs were also shown changing lanes without using their directional signals. The total number of violations witnessed by the news crew would yield a suspended license, according to the CBS report.
It was not clear from the footage if de Blasio was aware of the traffic infractions.
The mayor's cars are typically driven by members of de Blasio's security detail, which is made up of NYPD detectives. Security protocols suggest that de Blasio sit in the backseat because the SUV's side windows, unlike the front windshield, are comprised of bulletproof-glass. But de Blasio, who is 6-foot-5, frequently sits in the front, where he has more room to stretch out.
Just two days earlier, de Blasio released his "Vision Zero" traffic safety plan which aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities. The plan proposed reducing the citywide speed limit to 25 mph, detailing more NYPD officers to enforce speeding violations and toughening penalties for on speeding drivers.
"We hope that every time someone reads one of your stories, they're also asking themselves the question, are they handling their vehicle as responsibly as they could?" the mayor told reporters at the Tuesday press conference.
"The likelihood of a fatal crash and this statistic is very powerful," he also said at the traffic event. "The likelihood of a fatal crash drops significantly for speeds below 30 mph. If we get those speeds down, it will be the difference between losing a life and saving a life."
Brian Zumhagen, communications manager for the transit advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, said in a statement that "no driver is above traffic law."
"We look forward to other city officials leading by example as well," said Zumhagen, who suggested that it could be a teaching moment for all drivers.
The incident also comes just more than a week after de Blasio drew criticism for calling the NYPD about the arrest of a political ally. Bishop Orlando Findlayter was pulled over for a traffic violation and then arrested on an outstanding warrant stemming from an immigration rally last year.
The bishop was later released on a desk appearance ticket instead of spending a night in jail. De Blasio said he did not ask for his release and denied any improper behavior, saying he was just asking for information about the incident.
De Blasio is not the first mayor whose official vehicles were caught speeding. In 1998, The Daily News observed Rudolph Giuliani's car going more than 20 mph over the speed limit while driving on Staten Island. Giuliani denied that he broke the law.