In NYC, Moving Violation Tickets Are Down 50%, Traffic Deaths Up 24%
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From City Journal:

Crash Curse

In New York City, traffic deaths are up as enforcement is down.
Nicole Gelinas
Summer 2022

… Since the Covid pandemic hit New York City in March 2020, traffic deaths have skyrocketed, just as they have across the country. Locally and nationally, these deaths have paralleled the same double-digit trajectory upward as homicides and drug-overdose deaths. In 2019, 220 New Yorkers died on city streets, near the record low of 206, set the year before. In 2021, 273 people died, a nearly one-quarter increase in two years. In 2022, as of late May, 93 people have died, down slightly from last year, but 12 percent above pre-Covid levels. …

Yet the bad raw numbers hide some successes. The changes that the city has made to its streets over the last decade or so—creating room for pedestrians and cyclists and slowing car and truck drivers—have helped pedestrians, especially, who are dying in fewer numbers relative to a decade ago. The city hasn’t made as much progress in protecting cyclists, but nor have cyclist deaths soared during the pandemic—an achievement, considering how much cycling has increased, as New Yorkers avoid the subway and as food-delivery workers serve people eating more takeout.

Who, then, is perishing now in greater numbers? The victims often fit the profile of those killed in the single-car crashes noted above: younger men, drivers or passengers in motor vehicles, often late at night, often speeding. New York’s increase in traffic deaths, in other words, tends to mirror its (and the nation’s) broader public-safety problem: the self-destructive and dangerous behavior of a young male demographic. As with the recent explosion in violent crime, members of this group are taking advantage of a law-enforcement vacuum that lets them get away with ever more antisocial behavior—until it kills them or someone else. Street engineering has mitigated this problem to some degree, and can do more, but it can’t entirely fix it. Policing and other direct enforcement of behavior also have crucial roles to play.

… New York City started the pandemic with an advantage. In 2019, the city’s 220 traffic deaths—whether people in cars, or pedestrians, or cyclists—represented a per-capita rate of about 2.6 per 100,000 residents, just a small fraction of the 11.1 per 100,000 killed nationwide. Among large, urbanized areas, New York stood out for safety, as well. In Miami-Dade County in 2019, for example, the rate was 11 per 100,000; metro Atlanta’s rate was similar. Even among denser northeastern and mid-Atlantic cities, which have long had lower traffic-death rates than the sprawling south and west, New York performed slightly better than Boston, with its 2.8 traffic deaths per 100,000, and much better than Philadelphia, with its 5.7 deaths per 100,000. …

Pre-pandemic, New York’s falling traffic deaths made it a national outlier. Between 2011, when traffic deaths hit a modern low nationwide, and 2019, such fatalities across the country rose by 11.9 percent, to 36,355 annually. In Gotham over this period, by contrast, they fell 12 percent. …

New York’s decade of reengineering its streets to favor walkers and cyclists indisputably saved lives. Bike lanes and new pedestrian islands and plazas narrowed automotive driving lanes, for example, forcing motor vehicles to go slower and giving walkers and cyclists more room to move and cross. …

Enforcement also saved lives. Notes Michael Replogle, deputy transportation commissioner for policy during most of the de Blasio years, “automated and conventional traffic enforcement,” coupled with a lower 25 mph speed limit on non-highway roads, “expanded greatly to discourage aggressive driving.” Automated speed cameras in school zones, introduced by Bloomberg and widened under de Blasio, have slowed drivers over the past decade (even though, until recently, the state legislature required the city to turn the cameras off on weekends and overnight, when the plurality of crashes occur). Crash injuries fell by 13.9 percent in the year after installation. More than half of drivers getting a speeding ticket in a school zone needed only one such $50 citation to change their behavior, never receiving another ticket, city data show.

Police action reinforced the technology. In 2018, the record-low year for traffic fatalities, police issued a modern record-high number of speeding tickets—152,381—that more than doubled the 2012 total. Whether making a purposeful substitution or not, as police retreated from the tactic of stopping, questioning, and frisking young men allegedly behaving suspiciously on foot, they devoted some of these resources to stopping and summonsing young men behaving dangerously in cars. …

Over the past two years, New York has performed even more dismally when it comes to traffic bloodshed than the rest of America. In 2021, 42,915 people died on the nation’s roads, up 18 percent from 2019—but New York saw an even worse increase of 24 percent.  …

Just as fewer motorcyclists are wearing helmets, as the law requires, fewer drivers and passengers in fatal crashes were wearing seatbelts, as similarly mandated—40.8 percent were unbelted in 2021 and 2022, up from 31 percent in the immediate pre-Covid years.

More drivers are speeding: 69 such deaths occurred in 2020, a major increase over the average of 42 annually between 2017 and 2019, followed by a new high of 80 such deaths in 2021. And more are drinking. Though drunk-driving deaths fell in 2020—presumably because bars and restaurants were closed for much of the year—they rose past the pre-pandemic average in 2021, as entertainment venues reopened. Finally, more fatal crashes are occurring at night: 114 in 2021; and 97 in 2020, up from the pre-pandemic average.

Rather, law enforcement changed. Automated cameras continued to issue fines—nearly 4.4 million tickets in 2020 (numbers for previous years aren’t comparable, as the city greatly expanded the program in 2020). But police-directed enforcement of the laws of the road—against drunk driving, speeding, and general reckless behavior—plummeted. Between 2017 and 2019, the NYPD issued an average of slightly more than 1 million “moving violations”—for speeding, red-light running, and other dangerous driving—annually. In 2020, the figure dropped to 510,000, and in 2021, to 508,000. Just as New York drivers were proving that they couldn’t regulate their own behavior, the city severely curtailed its regulation of that behavior.

My graph from CDC WONDER data:

Looking up black men age 15-44 in New York City, I see that 52 died in motor vehicle accidents in 2018-2019 vs. 114 in 2020-2021.

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