Bands of young people on bicycles are darting in and out of traffic in Nassau County, cutting off cars and taunting drivers with games of chicken, said Nassau lawmakers who announced legislation Thursday to stop the dangerous activity.
These so-called ride-outs are becoming a worrisome trend in cities from New York to California, but local police say they have few, if any, legal remedies to address them.
Legis. John Ferretti (R-Levittown) has proposed a law that would make these reckless rides a misdemeanor, and impose a $100 fine on the parents of children over the age of 12 who engage in the behavior. Nassau County police say they receive several complaints in a day about the activity. The law would allow police to impound the kids' bikes, and their parents would have to claim the bikes.
"No longer will the Nassau police's hands be tied when it comes to minors performing these incredibly dangerous acts," Ferretti said during a Levittown news conference. "This bill makes it abundantly clear, and it sends a strong message not just to the children participating in these reckless events but to their parents: Nassau County takes this very seriously."
The legislation arrives as police and other officials are increasing attention to the dangerous interactions occurring between cyclists, motorists and pedestrians. Ferretti coupled the ride-out legislation with another bill that would mandate that children up until the age of 18 be required to wear helmets while riding their bike, scooter, motorized scooter or motorized bicycle. The current age limit is 14.
Legis. Thomas McKevitt (R-East Meadow), who co-sponsored both bills, talked at the news conference Thursday about his own difficulty in convincing his kids to wear bike helmets.
"They won't do it because their friends won't do it; it's not the cool thing," McKevitt said of his 15- and 16-year-olds. "Well now it's going to be the law. … It's basically a function of public safety."
During the news conference on the grass at East Village Green, a half-dozen kids on bicycles pulled up nearby. Several said they did not want the burden of having to wear a helmet while riding, that helmets were bulky and uncomfortable.
On the issue regarding the roving bands of reckless youths, parents at the conference took particular umbrage against the bicyclists who they said harass drivers.
Denise Florio, 49, of Bethpage, said she hoped the bill passed as quickly as possible. She said her own son had participated in these rides. She said she had tried talking to him about it.
"I told him, 'You need to be careful. You're my only child, and I don't want anything to happen to you,' " Florio said. "He doesn't care."
Florio said she encountered two rowdy bicyclists three weeks ago while she was at a stop sign on Farmedge Road in Levittown.
"There were two kids on either side of my car," she said. "They rode to the front of the car and stopped. I waited a few seconds and beeped my horn. They gave me the finger and rode alongside the car, saying curse words."
Officials plan a public meeting on the bills at 6 p.m. Aug. 21 at the Levittown library.
The kids think it's a big joke, but someone could easily get hurt, if not killed, said Ann Torcivia, 64, of Hicksville, who also had a run-in with a group.
She was driving down Central Avenue in Bethpage a month ago when five kids, all of whom looked under the age of 16, pedaled right at the front of her car. She said she jammed on her brakes, and they swerved at the last minute.
"Thank God nothing happened," Torcivia said. "They laughed. They gave me the finger."