Speeding Kills, and 39 Percent of New York Drivers Are Doing It

alg_drag_body.jpgCould speed have caused yesterday’s pedestrian fatality? We’ll probably never know. Photo: New York Daily News

A new report from Transportation Alternatives confirms what New York pedestrians and cyclists have been forced to accept as a fact of life: A high number of drivers speed through city streets, regardless of the potentially deadly consequences for those around them.

"Terminal Velocity: NYC’s Speeding Epidemic" [PDF] shows that 39 percent of observed motorists were driving in excess of the 30 mph speed limit. Using radar guns and speed enforcement cameras at 13 locations, TA volunteers clocked speeds in excess of 60 mph in school zones and other areas with heavy pedestrian traffic.

Most speeding drivers were traveling between 31 and 40 mph. While a pedestrian struck at 30 mph has a 60 percent chance of surviving a collision, the likelihood of survival drops to 30 percent when the vehicle is moving at 40 mph, TA notes.

The release of the study was coupled with calls for Albany to permit the installation of speed enforcement cameras — are you listening, Assemblyman Gantt? — and for NYPD and the city to keep speeds down through monitoring and improved street design.

Reading the report, we couldn’t help wondering if speed was at play in yesterday’s gruesome dragging death, when an as-yet-unidentified pedestrian was struck by two motorists in Queens. While the Times provided a highly detailed, almost graphic account of what police say happened, there is no mention of either driver’s speed — only that the first driver to strike the man "swerved to try to avoid him" before hitting him "pretty hard."

As Ben pointed out yesterday, the obligatory "no criminality was suspected" line normally means only that the driver was cleared for alcohol and drug consumption. The data in Terminal Velocity leads to the troubling conclusion that speeding — which is, after all, against the law — kills many more pedestrians than police reports or press accounts let on.

Traffic violence claimed the lives of 289 New Yorkers last year. When will lawmakers, police, and prosecutors crack down on this deadly hazard?

  • J

    I keep hearing that at 30mph, 40% die and at 40mph 70% die. It should be noted that at 20mph, only 15% die. If people often drive 30-40mph in a 30mph zone, maybe people will drive 20-30 in a 20mph zone.

  • Only 39% of drivers are speeding? Maybe it’s because I live in the Bronx near the border of Manhattan where there is less congestion to slow down drivers than in the CBD, but it seems like at least three quarters of drivers are speeding.

    And when you consider that the legal speed limit of 30mph is already too high, you can safely say that almost every driver in the city is going too fast.

  • All this is why I take a full car lane when I’m on my bike, and why I “jaywait” as imposingly as possible when I’m a pedestrian.

  • We’ll never get enforcement. The best we can hope for is street redesign that makes lower speeds inevitable.

  • Who knew New York City had a speed limit? The only place I can remember ever seeing signs, in Manhattan, was in Central Park. How about posting some signs and not designing streets, like Houston Street or most of the major avenues, to feel like a speedway?

  • Max Rockatansky

    It would make more sense to amend the law so that speed is a mitigating factor in charges just like drugs/alcohol.

  • Excellent summary of yet another important piece of work by T.A.

    My only change to the post would be to target Assembly Speaker Silver, not Transpo Committee Chair Gantt, re speed enforcement cameras. While Gantt is beyond our direct power to influence, Silver is not. Just as we need the NYPD to stop coddling criminal-speeders, we need Silver to stop coddling the criminal-enabling Gantt.

    As U.K. transpo researcher-advocate John whitelegg once put it, the public’s right for protection against lethally speeding drivers has been trumped by motorists’ “right” for protection from the risk of being found guilty of breaking the law. (no link available, sorry) This must end.

  • > why I “jaywait” as imposingly as possible

    Nice, yeah, I agree.

    Where’s the line between rude and merely aggressive jaywaiting? I’d submit it’s at, ‘Are you blocking traffic?’

    Maybe we should bulb crosswalks into the pavement up until the line between parallel-parked cars and the carpath; pedestrians waiting directly in line with parked cars is perfectly safe. (I believe JSK is doing this on the UWS.)

    > Who knew New York City had a speed limit?

    I have only seen these signs on the borders between the Bronx and Westchester, Nassau and Queens.

  • From http://www.nydmv.state.ny.us/dmanual/chapter08-manual.htm
    “You must obey the posted speed limit, or, if no limit is posted, drive no faster than 55 mph (88 km/h). ”

    I wonder how many drivers believe it’s perfectly legal to drive 55 mph within the City because they never see a lower speed limited posted.

  • > Where’s the line between rude and merely aggressive jaywaiting?

    When I see a car traveling in a way that made me adopt my little policy, I try not to worry about where that line is.

    I try not to worry about my harmless rudeness or aggressiveness in the face of behavior that’s homicidal.

  • vnm

    There is a traffic-light-controlled mid-block ped crossing that I walk past every day on my way to work. I never take it any more. I have seen so many drivers thoughtlessly blow through that red light that I just refuse to put my life on the line. (Enforcement? Hah!)

    From the perspective of being outside a car, it is amazing how little attention drivers pay to the act of driving.

  • Max Rockatansky

    DD – If by jaywaiting you mean stepping off the curb into traffic, I’m not sure what you’re hoping to accomplish. It seems a little suicidal. You’re gambling that people driving cars are actually paying attention to the road. Risky proposition.

  • Stacey, you’re reading NYS laws, not NYC laws. Immediately below what you quoted:

    > Be aware that some cities have speed limits lower than 55 mph (88 km/h) that may not be posted. For example, the speed limit is 30 mph (48 km/h) in New York City unless another limit is posted.

  • Peter Flint

    How about changing the law so that hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist with a car carries at least some minimum penalty; perhaps at the very least a moving violation for failure to yield?

    Yes, peds and bikes do stupid things and step out in front of cars. None the less, any lawyer will tell you that it doesn’t give you the right to run them over. A pedestrian may be breaking the law, but you still have to yield to them, wherever they are.

    If you hit a pedestrian and really think you’re not at fault, take it to court and contest it like any other ticket.

  • Drivers who kill should never drive again, whether they’re determined to be at fault or not, whether they’ve been drinking or not, whether they’ve broken a traffic law or not. Someone dies? License revoked, forever, automatic, no appeal, no exceptions. This might serve as a better deterrent than criminal prosecutions — thought it wouldn’t remove the need for them.

  • Max, your admonishment is worthwhile. I don’t, nor do I recommend anyone else, do it in a suicidal manner. I just visibly encroach a little bit, and only if I’m confident that I’m not at much risk.

  • “It would make more sense to amend the law so that speed is a mitigating factor in charges just like drugs/alcohol.”

    And have black boxes in motor vehicles so speed and driver behavior could be determined after a crash.

  • Paul

    City street should be designed and retrofitted to make it near impossible to speed. Raised crosswalks, bumps, chicanes, grade separation for peds and bikes. How about crossing gates that lower when a light turns red? Costly? Probably. Impractical? No. 4000lb. moving objects need to be tamed in the city.

  • > Drivers who kill should never drive again, whether they’re determined to be at fault or not,

    Holy, I thought I was a radical curmudgeon. Mark, what the hell?

    I was pretty sure we’re agitating at Streetsblog re car crashes for a more realistic understanding of fault; not suspension of the concept and constitutional rights for drivers!

    Streets that describe their own context, traffic-slowing devices, adaptations of the laws to benefit cyclists and pedestrians, sure.

    But you can’t do away with the concept of fault. That is, forgive me, batshit lunacy.

  • I too was amazed by only 39% speeding, cause it certainly seems more like 95%. I think that’s because the data was taken at one point, not for a distance (such as one mile).

    @Mark, I agree. I’d also love to see the smallest fines be $1000. I’d also love to see licenses revoked for small infractions too. A month without a car certainly makes a big impression on someone’s habits.

    @Todd, who needs a black box? Just make all the GPS companies add a tiny bit of software to figure it out. If someone suddenly stops in under 200ft, record the data and make it accessible to use against them. There are so many GPS units in cars nowadays.


  • James

    I’m pretty sure that up in the Northwest Bronx where I live, it’s closer to 90%. Especially on Broadway, if you’re in a car in the left lane and are not speeding at least 5-10 over, someone will run you off the road.

  • vnm

    Subway motormen and motorwomen and railroad engineers are professionally trained and certified and travel along fixed rights of way where it is extraordinarily difficult to veer off the intended path of travel. They are forbidden from eating or drinking on duty or gabbing with friends on a cell phone. Bus drivers are also professionals and are forbidden from similar activities. And I think everyone would agree, rightly so.

    Yet amateur drivers, who mow down ten of thousands of people every year, and even to some extend professional cabbies, are free to gab on the phone all day as long, in this state, as it is not via a handheld device. They are free to eat while driving, and motor vehicle manufacturers even encourage them to drink by providing cup holders!

    How can this be? There is no law, and little public sentiment, to ban eating, drinking and talking by drivers.

    We as a culture need to put much greater restrictions on the activities people can engage in behind the wheel.

    Sure, people will say: But train drivers are responsible for hundreds of people in their vehicles. But there are two easy arguments against it.

    1) The point is to protect those *outside* the vehicle.
    2) This isn’t about numbers. Every single life is precious!

  • q

    Yeah, advocating for removing drivers from the road who are not found to be at fault is crazy. We, as advocates, lose all credibility when our members call for such ideas in public forums. So, let’s say someone pushes someone into oncoming traffic, I hit that person, but am not at fault. And you think my license should be revoked? What if someone runs a red light and hits me, but he dies? Would my license be revoked under your plan? Think before you post or you risk undermining the responsible, thoughtful discussion that frequently occurs in this space.

  • Kaja, “the concept of fault” is all too similar to the use of the term “accident.” It is enabling the killing to go on and on and on. Drivers kill nearly 300 pedestrians a year in New York City. Clearly many of them were “at fault” but how often does one of them get prosecuted? The system — including the police, the courts, and your own perceptions, apparently — is broken. Fixing it will require rules that are clear and simple and leave no wiggle room. A license to drive is a privilege, not a right, and it is not a license to kill. Losing a driver’s license is a tragedy; killing and dying are tragedies.

  • Correction: “Losing a driver’s license is NOT a tragedy; killing and dying are tragedies.”

    While I’m at it, I’ll finish with this: No one with an ounce of human decency would kill with a car and then get behind the wheel again. Whether it’s an “accident” or not.

  • “…constitutional rights for drivers”

    I doubt anyone’s talking about eliminating due process or cruel and unusual punishment. If you’re talking about other Constitutional rights, lemme know…

    Driving itself, if you’ll recall, is a privilege, not a right.

  • > Kaja, “the concept of fault” is all too similar to the use of the term “accident.”

    Right, it’s one that needs a cultural sea-change and some legal adjustment. It’s also a foundational principle of justice and you cannot think about whats right and wrong without reference to it.

    > No one with an ounce of human decency would kill with a car and then get behind the wheel again. Whether it’s an “accident” or not.

    So we’re supposed to deny peoples’ constitutional rights because we think they’re indecent?

  • > “…constitutional rights for drivers”

    You have a constitutional right to a trial by a jury of your peers, before the government can punish you for committing a felony. Mark is proposing permanent revocation of licenses for drivers based on involvement in a fatal accident _simply_, with no reference to causation or fault. Please stay with the conversation.

  • Kaja, please point to the clause in the U.S. Constitution that includes the words “car,” “driver,” “happy motoring,” etc.

  • Kaja, “trial by jury” suggests that a crime has been identified and prosecuted.

    I am suggesting that driver’s licenses be automatically revoked when a car kills a pedestrian. While this may be a legal process, it is not necessarily a criminal process.

  • Mark, read my comment immediately prior.

  • Okay, what’s the basis for the revocation?

  • We do seem to be playing hopscotch….

    The basis for the revocation is the death of a pedestrian, caused by a car.

    The mechanism for the revocation would be a traffic law, not a criminal law. The law would be an entirely impartial one, like the one that says you have to be a certain age to drive.

  • > The basis for the revocation is the death of a pedestrian, caused by a car.

    See; just like guns don’t kill people, cars don’t kill people either.

    Actions are caused by humans with intentions.

    The gun doesn’t go to jail, the man who fired it does. If you kill a person by negligently operating your car, then the law sends you to jail — it already does, though it’s not enforced, and THIS is the problem.

    I read you as attempting to countermand the NYPD’s total failure to enforce the vehicular homicide laws, by replacing wholesale the jury-trial system by which accusations are evaluated in court.

    Who would revoke licenses in your system? The cops on the scene? NYS DMV?

    What’s my avenue of appeal? How do I get my license back?

    I think we want _more_ court involvement, not less.

    Anyway, I still think you’re crazy and should stop posting, but maybe I’m baiting you by responding, so I’m going to bail out of this thread now. Sorry for the scroll, everyone.

  • “Actions are caused by humans with intentions.”

    The sad fact is that car-on-ped violence is caused by a combination of machines and the people who operate them. And the people who operate them often — in fact, nearly always — have no intention of killing. Yet they kill anyway.

    That is why intention is irrelevant if you want to save lives.

  • W. K. Lis

    Most new streets are designed NOT for the posted speed limit, but ABOVE the speed limit (5 mph or 10 km/h higher). The lanes are wider, the surface smooth, and the curves more gentler. So the driver on newer streets go faster, but then continue at that higher speed on older roads.
    Designers should build ALL streets for the posted speed limit. As well, the streets with the wrong design should be altered to force drivers to slow down: narrower lanes, cobblestones or rougher surfaces, obstacles to force drivers to slow down.

  • q

    Speaking of driving, this thread is headed down the road to crazy town.

    Surely a reasonable person can see that even with the utmost care and attention, a driver could still accidentally — yes, accidentally — kill a pedestrian or other human being. If a pedestrian darts out in front of a car, suicide mission style, no amount of safe driving could prevent a death in this case. The law is in place to distinguish intent and act accordingly. The problem, as Kaja, points out, is that the law as it exists is not enforced.

    Let’s keep this discussion grounded in reality. Yes, the reality is that people are getting killed by cars, but the additional reality is that the laws on the books are more than sufficient to prevent this. The problem is enforcement and infrastructure.

  • t

    Mark, I also highly doubt that you are a strict constitutionalist, unless you are a fan of Anton Scalia, so the fact that words such as “car” and “driver” are not found in the original text of the Constitution is utterly irrelevant to the discussion.

    To paraphrase your words, please point to the clause in the U.S. Constitution that includes the words “pedestrian,” “crosswalk,” “jaywalking,” etc.

    I’m guessing that we all share a somewhat liberal ideology, so let’s have some sense when arguing how the law should be applied.

  • Can people stop calling others “crazy” in this thread, and telling them to stop posting? I may not agree with Mark’s suggestions, but I think they’re thought-provoking and worth discussion. And can people use names of at least two letters, so that we can keep you all straight?

  • To expand on what Mark’s saying, there is precedent for these kinds of things. We’ve talked in previous threads about various reasons for license suspension and revocation. If the police have reason to believe a given drunk person is intending to drive, they have various remedies available to prevent it. Why not if they have reason to believe that a given person is likely to drive recklessly?

    Given the level of carnage, it’s not crazy to suggest that the government start treating driving less like an inalienable right and more like the privilege it is. The due process for a privilege is quite different from that for a right.

  • t

    I’m sorry, but suspending the notion of “fault” from the law is crazy. Thought-provoking and crazy are not mutually exclusive. I would not tell Mark to stop posting (and never did), but I’d like to engage him in a discussion that’s grounded in reality.

  • q: “Yes, the reality is that people are getting killed by cars, but the additional reality is that the laws on the books are more than sufficient to prevent this. The problem is enforcement and infrastructure.”

    It is my contention that unenforceable laws are not “more than sufficient.” They are insufficient, as the continuing carnage demonstrates.

    Infrastructure is certainly part of the solution precisely because it circumvents enforcement (or the lack of it). But we can’t remake the built environment overnight, especially in this economic climate.

    Meanwhile, the criterion for who is a bad driver, and unworthy of a license, need not be judged by an elaborate legal structure that depends on multiple levels of human intervention. This is clearly not working and people are paying the price with their lives.

    Would you stop locking up your apartment because burglary is against the law? The lock says simply: no, do not enter. It keeps out the innocent as well as the guilty. Likewise, licensing authorities should say no to drivers who kill, regardless of the content of their souls.

  • Surely a reasonable person can see that even with the utmost care and attention, a driver could still accidentally — yes, accidentally — kill a pedestrian or other human being.

    In 1999 I saw a cyclist get thrown across four lanes of traffic and killed by a driver who was slightly distracted. After a year of reflection, I came to the same conclusion that you do.

    It was that realization that convinced me to give away my car and move back to a place where I knew I could live the rest of my life without needing to drive, if I chose. It’s for that reason that I believe we should move away from a system that requires amateur drivers anywhere.

    For that same reason, I do not agree with Mark that revocation is appropriate. A relatively short suspension, on the other hand, would probably be a good idea. Say a month or two, long enough to determine whether there’s any reason the driver should not be allowed to get behind the wheel again.

  • Meanwhile, the criterion for who is a bad driver, and unworthy of a license, need not be judged by an elaborate legal structure that depends on multiple levels of human intervention. This is clearly not working and people are paying the price with their lives.

    That sounds pretty reasonable for a crazy person. For those that think of being unlicensed to drive as imprisonment, it’s a due process question. For those that think of driving like flying a plane or hunting, it’s a question of tightening regulations to stem ongoing loss of life. What is crazy to me is to perceive the acute possibility of killing someone in the course of regular city driving–and to keep doing it. And on top of that to prop up the status quo of “forgive and forget” driving rules to protect one’s own permission to drive “in the event of …”. That is nuts, or worse.

    City driving carries the same responsibilities as flying a passenger plane (many lives in your hands) and almost as much skill. But statewide driver licensing procedures are worlds apart from flying and unfortunately NYC motorists have not shown themselves to be up to self-regulation. We need to move towards a more serious process to acquire a city driving license and simple rules to revoke it. Drivers that kill here should henceforth have to make do without driving in the city, or move somewhere that fatal crashes are tolerated.

    By the way, the livable streets internet was working just fine before the mainstreamy police showed up.

  • PaulCJr

    Do we have motorcycle cops in this city???? In some other walking cities I’ve been to, they wait along the side of the road and when a motorist flies by they’re off and chasing down that car. Even when these motorcycle cops are visible, they’re a great deterrent to speeding motorist. Having these type of cops around will put the fear of getting a speeding ticket into the hearts of motorist. Now of course this all relies on NYPD actually enforcing the speeding laws, which we all know they’re not very good at. This could even been a cash cow for our financially strapped city.

  • Consider the paradox of the Zipcar.

    Zipcar accountholders are a self-selected pool, who:

    – rarely drive, let alone in the city
    – are unfamiliar with their car, because a new one every time,
    – advertise themselves as such, to other drivers, via logo

    Holding a Zipcar account should be a mark of shame. I’d adore a City-class driver’s license, the same way I’d like to see SUVs licensed separately and tolled additionally (or even barred from entry).

    Some newbie sociologist should make herself a Ph. D. by demonstrating that Zipcar accountholders are awful at driving, and that they should stop.

  • J. Mork

    OTOH, these factors may make Zipcar drivers more careful and therefore less likely to crash.

  • Careful, sure, but more probably skittish.

    City driving is typically intimidating to newbies, and un-confident drivers seem to me just as liable to cause wrecks as the ones who are hopped up on testosterone and looking at the sky as they accelerate through intersections.

    Anecdote time: my suburban, SUV-bound mother’s story of the first time she drove in Manhattan. She said a series of trucks just “drove her onto the sidewalk.” Yes, she drove on the sidewalk, to get out of the way of what her country experience told her were aggressive semitrailers. 😐

    At least Zipcar doesn’t rent SUVs. (Their competitors do.)

  • Kaja, if “Zipcar accountholders are awful at driving” because they don’t drive often, that would imply that livery-car and taxi drivers are all excellent drivers. Experience would indicate otherwise.

  • J. Mork

    I’d be interested to find a study, Kaja. In the meantime your assumptions and anecdotes have not convinced me.


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