A vehicle driving the wrong way through New York City's bustling Times Square ploughed into a crowd, killing an 18-year-old woman and injuring 22 others during Thursday's lunchtime rush (Friday morning NZ time), authorities said.

The driver, a 26-year-old man from the Bronx, mounted a sidewalk at Seventh Avenue and 42nd Street in Manhattan and drove at a "high rate" for several blocks, striking pedestrians along the way, police said.

New York's Times Square is closed off by police vehicles. Photo / AP
New York's Times Square is closed off by police vehicles. Photo / AP

Mayor Bill de Blasio, D, at an afternoon news conference said it was a "tough day for New York City but, as usual, the people of New York City will stand firm."

Authorities said the driver is a U.S. citizen and former member of the Navy who has a criminal history that includes arrests for driving while intoxicated. After the crash Thursday, he was taken into police custody and was being tested for drugs and alcohol, police said. At this point, authorities said, there is no indication that the incident was related to terrorism.

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Witnesses described the scene on social media, saying that a car had driven up onto a sidewalk in Times Square, mowed people down and then crashed.

Bystanders said people were "laying on the sidewalks" and that others were "screaming and running, the place is swarming with emergency vehicles and cops."

The smashed car, lower right, sits on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street. Photo / AP
The smashed car, lower right, sits on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street. Photo / AP

Witnesses said police were telling people to shelter-in-place while emergency crews swarmed the scene and investigators tried to determine what had happened.

"It was going at a fast rate of speed and to me it looked like it was trying to hit as many people as possible," Annie Donahey, 24, told the New York Times. "People were trying to jump out of the way."

"People were being hit and rolling off the car," Josh Duboff, an employee at the Thomson Reuters headquarters who said he ran from the car's path, told Reuters.

The car crashed when it reached 45th Street, police said.

A smashed car sits on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street in New York's Times Square. Photo / AP
A smashed car sits on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street in New York's Times Square. Photo / AP

Sharif White, a nearby street vendor, told the New York Times that he watched as paramedics tended to a woman on the ground.

"It hit her," he told the newspaper, pointing to the woman. "And it hit a couple of other people. Then the next thing I know it went straight down to 45th. It just was doing like about 100 miles per hour, and then the car crashed."

Authorities said the driver struck and killed an 18-year-old woman and also hit her 13-year-old sister, who was transported to a nearby hospital with injuries.

No information was released on the other victims.