Traffic Fatalities Up in NYC, Speeding Top Culprit, DOT Says

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Traffic fatalities rose 12 percent in 2012 in New York City, driven by a 46 percent jump in the number of motor vehicle occupants who were killed in crashes. Speeding, the city says, was the top contributing factor. Pedestrians and cyclist fatalities remained at or near historic lows.

The number of cyclists who were killed dropped 18 percent compared to 2011 (from 22 to 18) while the number of pedestrians struck and killed rose by 5 percent in 2012 (from 141 to 148) according to figures released by the NYC Department of Transportation.

In total 274 people died in traffic collisions, 108 of them in vehicles (including on motorcycles) and 166 of them while walking or riding a bike. The DOT had previously cited 237 as the number of fatalities for 2011 but amended that to 245 in today's release.

The DOT calculates "speeding was the greatest single factor in traffic deaths, contributing to 81 fatal traffic crashes—about 30 percent of all traffic fatalities." Fatal hit-and-runs are also on the rise, the DOT said. Other contributing factors were "disregard of red lights or stop signs, driver inattention and/or alcohol."

“One thousand New Yorkers are alive today who would not be if we simply sustained the city’s fatality rate just one decade ago,” said Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. She stressed efforts the city is making to reduce speeding near schools (see graphic below) and long term positive safety trends.

New York remains safe by national standards. Traffic fatalities remain near all time lows following an aggressive program installing about 200 safety improvements in the past five years including street and intersection redesigns, protected bike lanes, slow zones and special attention to schools. NYC traffic fatality rates are less than one third of the national average on a per capita basis, and about half the rates of many other big cities.

To address the dangers of speeding, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and several members of the City Council want to install speed cameras. Last week the City Council called on state legislators -- whose approval is needed -- to permit the city to install cameras.

The NYPD supported the idea in a statement along with the official release of the 2012 fatality numbers. “Just as red light cameras reduced infractions at intersections where they were installed, we anticipate that speed cameras will result in greater compliance with posted speed limits,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly.

The Police union, however, has come out against the speed cameras, telling the NY Daily News, "What we need are the actual police officers on the street ... Cops on the street are what slows people down.”

Last month, Kelly announced a considerable expansion of NYPD staffing its Collision Investigation Squad (formerly the Accident Investigation Squad) as part of a wider effort to focus more on preventing and investigating traffic collisions, which kill almost as many New Yorkers as gun homicides.

The NYPD issued one million moving violations last year, 71,000 of them for speeding, a figure advocates say is not enough. (By comparison, about 51,000 tickets went to cyclists in 2011. To see the latest breakdown of what summonses were issued by the NYPD, see this chart from January ). Police point out issuing speeding summonses requires special equipment, while other tickets can be written by every officer on the street. That could be why the NYPD supports speed cameras.

If today's announcement is any indication, the initial focus of speed cameras, if approved, could be around schools.

Speeding near schools in NYC. (Image: NYC DOT)

Speeding is alarmingly common near schools. The DOT measured the percentage of vehicles that were speeding when passing NYC schools. Outside three schools, 100 percent of the cars were speeding: P.S. 60 Alice Austen in Staten Island, P.S. 233 Langston Hughes in Brooklyn and P.S. 54 Hillside in Queens.

At the High School for Law Enforcement and Public Safety, 75 percent of cars were going above the legal limit. In all, the DOT released a list of 100 schools where 75 percent or more of vehicles were speeding. Cameras, the city says, can help.

"The streets around our city’s schools are the real speed traps, and we can’t play it safe when it comes to doing everything we can to protect New Yorkers on our streets—and especially seniors and school kids,” said Sadik-Khan.

The DOT also pointed out, no pedestrians were killed in crashes with cyclists.

High-Speed School List