Since the Department of Transportation stepped up its efforts to ensure traffic safety there is a bigger chance this year that New Yorkers will be fined for texting while driving, drunk-driving or for driving with tinted windows. The chance of getting ticketed for speeding though is much lower.
The local nonprofit organization Transportation Alternatives reports that last year more than half of New York’s police precincts issued fewer than two speeding tickets a week.
That statistic doesn’t mean New York drivers have become exemplary. According to the organization there are not enough police on the streets to give summonses.
And this is essential, because of all traffic violations, speeding is the number one killer in the five boroughs.
TA has analyzed the most recent report from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which lists crashes and their causes. In the last decade 1,745 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed and 142,485 injured on New York City roads. The main cause is speeding.
Still, according to the organization, the NYPD last year gave out more tickets for tinted windows than for speeding: 16,300 New Yorkers received speeding tickets as compared to 65,900 tinted windows tickets. In Queens, the 103rd Precinct wrote 71 speeding tickets and 6,704 tinted windows tickets.
“People are dying because of unexamined priorities,” Juan Martinez, general counsel of TA, told the City Council Committees on Public Safety and Traffic in a public hearing on March 15.
He called for more funds to the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau, which has been hit in recent budget cuts, and requested that the bureau prioritize its resources for issuing speeding tickets, primarily on neighborhood streets where the majority of speeding-related fatalities happen. Last year 79 percent of the speeding tickets issued by the NYPD were written on limited access highways by the Police Department’s Highway Unit.
The finding come after the Mayor’s Office earlier this year announced that 2011 saw a record low for traffic fatalities – 241 fatalities, which represents the lowest total since records were first kept in 1910, and a 39 percent decline since 2001, when there were 393.
Mayor Bloomberg said that the Department of Transportation and the NYPD have taken several steps to improve traffic safety and mentioned better safety engineering and improved road design. The department has installed more speed bumps and flashing lights in residential areas and more red light speed cameras across the state.
In terms of enforcing traffic safety rules, he pointed out that the NYPD has been clamping down on motorists driving while texting or while drunk.
But TA says these efforts could be optimized. It cites drunk driving as only the fourth largest contributing factor in fatal crashes, and that priorities should be put on fighting speeding.
“Safer street designs have made the biggest impact on safety. But street designs can only go so far, and that’s why we need the NYPD to finally adopt a zero tolerance policy for dangerous driving,” said spokesperson Michael Murphy.
Reducing accidents is of interest to the city since the accidents cost billions of dollars in hospital costs, lost wages and tax revenues.
The NYPD took some more beating at the hearing, which was attended by Deputy Chief John Cassidy of the NYPD’s Transportation Bureau. Cyclists and pedestrians who have been hurt by drivers said police didn’t adequately investigate the accidents.
Only accidents in which the driver is proven to be drunk or distracted, or the accident victim dies or is likely to die, are deployed by the Highway District and the Accident Investigation Squad, which after substantial cuts are down to 19 employees.
“As long as the default NYPD response to a motor vehicle crash is ‘accidents happen,’ New Yorkers will continue to be killed and injured by dangerous driving,” Martinez said at the hearing.
Chairman of the Public Safety Committee Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) has since submitted a resolution to lawmakers in Albany calling to pass legislation that gives police officers authority to issue summonses, even if the officer was not present at the time of the accident, as long as the officer has reasonable cause to believe the violation was committed by the driver. He also plans to set up a task force with the Transportation Committee and Bloomberg’s office to address the issues.
The NYPD did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.