With motor vehicle traffic greatly diminished on city streets during COVID-19 social-distancing—experts estimate traffic volumes have dropped 35 to 50 percent since the first week of March—some drivers are using this time to brush up on their reckless high speed driving techniques.
On Tuesday morning, one driver took his extremely rare and expensive Porsche for a Grand Theft Auto-style smash up through Midtown. Video, which you can see below, shows the driver of the blue race car careening out of control and smashing into one vehicle. The driver then attempted to leave the scene, but ended up hitting three other parked cars.
A police spokesperson told Gothamist that 33-year-old Benjamin Chen, who was driving the 2014 Porsche Gemballa Mirage GT, was arrested at the scene at West 44th Street and 11th Avenue. He has been charged with reckless driving and operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs. Cops add that no one was injured in the incident.
MotorTrend noted that Chen is the co-founder of GoldRush Rally, an annual multi-state rally for owners of luxury and exotic vehicles which has a reputation for encouraging dangerous driving. Chen himself has wrecked several other luxury cars before, including a McLaren 12C Spider during a GoldRush rally in 2013—he reportedly lost control “at a high rate of speed” on a Texas highway and careened into a roadside storage unit complex. He was given a ticket for reckless driving for that incident.
A spokesperson for Gold Rush declined to comment beyond saying that Chen is no longer associated with the rally as of last August.
While this is one of the more extreme cases of drivers treating the streets like their own Dukes of Hazzard stunt course, others have reported seeing cars racing on highways.
City school speed cameras, which are located in 750 zones around the city and are turned on from from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Friday, have issued more than double the number of tickets in March compared to January. There were 124,582 tickets issued in January 2020, 146,092 in February and 269,396 in March. One ticket costs $50.
Harry Shasho, owner of 212 Motoring, a performance and customization auto shop for high speed cars, said he didn’t know about any organized street races, but confirms drivers are using the Belt Parkway to test the limits.
“You see cars flying, motorcycles, loud exhausts, BMWs, Mustangs, just guys going to town,” Shasho said. He said he’s heard about several “high roller tickets”—drivers ticketed for going over 90 MPH.
New York State Police, however, report a drop in speeding tickets in New York City, from 114 tickets issued in person by police between March 15th and April 5th, 2019, to just four for the same time period this year. On Long Island there was a similar drop from 1,156 last year, to 386 this year.
“Our mission in NYC is focused on providing security at specific locations, including the MTA bridges and tunnels and transportation hubs, rather than on traffic enforcement,” a spokesperson for New York State Troopers wrote. “As far as Long Island is concerned, the drop in speeding tickets is a result of the drop off in traffic volumes.”
The NYPD also reports a drop in speeding tickets issued from 16,829 in January, to 13,483 in February and 10,736 in March.
Despite the drop in ticketing, people on the ground are fearful someone is going to get killed. Ravi Singh, the manager at a BP Station in New Hyde Park, said when the light turns green on Lakewood Road and Union Turnpike, all hell breaks loose.
“I’m worried if somebody is crossing that road, that person [the driver] wouldn’t have the time to stop,” Singh said. “These cars with the loud engines and sports cars, they race…and they’re loud. Loud meaning I’m standing in the office and once that car pass by it’s scary. And I’m sure the houses near Lakewood Road hear them as well, loud and clear.”
Back in the city, Brad Lander, who spearheaded the Reckless Driver Act, said it’s a good thing his bill passed. The recently approved rule forces drivers who get more than 15 school speed zone tickets or run five red lights in one year to take a safe driving course, or risk having their car impounded.
“It seems clear that our quarantined, emptier streets are being taken by some as an invitation to drag race, to speed and drive like idiots,” Lander said. “If you choose to speed you’re going to be contributing to our city’s budget, right when we need it. I wish people would slow down. That $50 bucks is not worth the chance you will kill yourself or one of your neighbors.”