Waiting for Raymond: When Will NYPD Address Its Traffic Safety Failures?

It should be good news that, on Ray Kelly’s orders, NYPD is going to start tracking bike-ped crashes. There’s a scarcity of information on the subject, and while the best available data indicates that the number of pedestrian injuries involving cyclists is dropping, the quality could be much better. Collecting information on these crashes with the same methods NYPD uses for motor vehicle crashes is a step up.

Photo: ##http://weblogs.newsday.com/news/local/longisland/politics/blog/2007/12/mike_era_outruns_rudy_era_in_c.html##Newsday##

But here’s the thing that’s got to be nagging anyone who pays attention to NYPD street safety policies, such as they are. It’s very rare for Ray Kelly to turn his attention to traffic violence. At the moment, the department’s approach to traffic safety is in the public eye, thanks to a courageous group of victims’ families and a recent City Council hearing that exposed the inadequacy of the NYPD traffic enforcement and crash investigations. So right now would be a good time for the commissioner to, say, order a review of how the department handles traffic injuries and deaths.

While the department is ready to shift its protocol to get a better handle on the 500 or so injuries New York City pedestrians sustain in collisions with cyclists each year, we’re still waiting for Ray Kelly to even acknowledge that police can do more to prevent the 75,000 or so injuries and 270 deaths caused annually by NYC motor vehicle crashes [PDF].

Here’s a brief run-down of the department’s traffic safety failures that have recently come to light, which Kelly has yet to address:

  • Police officers trained to look into traffic crashes only take cases where the victim dies or is deemed likely to die. The department does not assign trained investigators to the thousands of non-fatal traffic crashes in the city each year, nor could NYPD tell the City Council how many non-fatal traffic injuries result in charges for the driver.
  • When the Accident Investigation Squad does take a case, they routinely fail to collect or report evidence that might incriminate the driver, as in the case of Rasha Shamoon. Investigators often accept the driver’s account of events and blame victims even when the driver’s word doesn’t square with other evidence, as in the cases of Shamoon, Mathieu Lefevre, and Stefanos Tsigrimanis. And NYPD has dropped the ball and botched the case when charges are filed and the evidence seems ironclad, as with the alleged drunk driver who killed Clara Heyworth.
  • As a matter of protocol, NYPD won’t charge motorists with reckless endangerment or failure to exercise due care unless an officer personally witnesses dangerous driving behavior, according to testimony from Susan Petito, a senior attorney at the department.

How much longer do New Yorkers have to wait to read in the morning paper that Ray Kelly is taking action to stop preventable traffic injuries and deaths?

  • The Truth

    Since when does an officer have to witness a crime to press charges?  That is the most flagrantly bogus claim I think I’ve ever heard.

    The NYPD makes arrests and the DA press charges against people for all types of crimes based on witness accounts and physical evidence.  Manslaughter with a car should be no different than with a gun.  There’s no way anybody in the NYPD would claim they couldn’t arrest somebody for murder because an officer didn’t personally witness the perp shoot the victim!

  • cm

    I’d also like to see them pay attention to crashes caused by swerving to avoid pedestrians. I injured myself last summer swerving to avoid a pedestrian who walked out into the hail-a-cab lane on 6th avenue. Many people stopped to check on me except the person who forced me to choose between a wet manhole, his body, and an SUV.  I quickly chose the manhole and went sliding up the avenue. The SUV driver even stopped. I have friends with much worse injuries because of swerving to avoid a pedestrian who wasn’t looking. Because of the way pedestrians and vendors misuse bike lanes, I believe the side of 6th ave without a bike lane full of people walking into it without looking is actually safer for cyclists.

  • Anonymous

    Be careful what you ask for; you might get it.
    A year and a half ago Ray Kelly responded to the demand for police enforcement and education of bicycling, we got enforcement from hell. I expect this is what we will see again.

  • What NYPD seems to be saying is that they are going to start using a form like the one linked below to report bike crashes not involving motor vehicles.  In fact they should have been doing this all along, Under Vehicle Traffic & Law Section 603, excerpted below.  It’s about time, Ray!

    http://www.dmv.ny.gov/forms/mv104c.pdf

    VTL s. 603: Accidents; police authorities and coroners to report. 1. Every
    police or judicial officer to whom an accident resulting in injury to a
    person shall have been reported . . . shall immediately investigate the facts, or cause the same to be investigated, and report the matter to the commissioner [of the DMV] forthwith; provided, however, that the report of the accident is made to the police officer or judicial officer within five days after such accident.

  • Eric McClure

    As Bicycles Only points out, the NYPD should have been doing this already. But better late than never. And let’s just make sure this isn’t yet another distraction from enforcing the law in cases in which drivers maim and kill.

    The real change will come when Mayor Tish James appoints new Police Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

  • Glenn

    I think this is squarely aimed at bikeshare. All the skeptics think that this is going to cause a lot of new bike crashes as in experienced riders flood the streets. Rather I think it’s going to show as in other cities that these new riders are going to be some of the safest, most cautious and accountable cyclists. All street users will benefit from the safety in numbers and cyclists will be watched for and more visible instead of a rare occurance. What will be clear from the bike share data is how rare any accident is

  • KillMoto

    Good point @b0b5a0cf4ee09ff380fd46de4055393f:disqus .  But if Boston is any measure, bike share won’t be a problem.  Those bikes accelerate slowly, have a low top speed, and stop pretty quickly.  They won’t lead to many bike/ped collisions at all, unless the pedestrian wants to get hit. 

  • Bolwerk

    Whatever his successes and failures, Ray Kelly is ingrained in his way of thinking.  Hopefully New Yorkers will figure out by 2013 that having a police state had little to do with our drop in crime, especially given the fact that the police seem to have little left to do but harass people – which doesn’t bother anybody until it happens to them.

    But, the bad news is, future Mayor Christine Quinn seems to think, like Bloomberg, all the authoritarianism of the Giuliani era should continue to be inflicted on the plebes: the young, the poor, the brown. Probably Muslims too. It’s no coincidence that the only “deviance” she finds permissible is within the norms of the upper middle class types in Chelsea who canoodle with the artistic class. It’s almost the same mantle of “compassionate conservatism” Bush wrapped himself in: the haves get the compassion, the have-nots get the conservatism.

  • Anonymous

    Good points

  • Anonymous

    “Those bikes accelerate slowly, have a low top speed, and stop pretty quickly.”

    Why can’t cars have these properties?

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