The Daily News reports that traffic deaths and injuries are down over the first three months of 2014 compared to the same period last year. The improvement is encouraging, and increased traffic enforcement is probably playing a role, but the harsh winter is almost certainly a factor too.
Transit reporter Pete Donohue relays the numbers: Traffic deaths are down 26 percent so far this year, from 69 to 51, and injuries are down 8 percent, from 11,650 to 10,729.
The decline in injuries, which are less subject to random variation than fatalities, suggests that the improvement in safety is real.
Increased traffic enforcement from NYPD and the city’s small speed camera program probably explain some of the decline in traffic violence. Police have started to hand out more tickets for dangerous motor vehicle violations. Summonses for failing to yield to pedestrians doubled the first two months of this year compared to last year, and red-light-running and speeding tickets rose a more modest amount. Meanwhile, the city’s speed cams, only five of which have been turned on, issued 11,715 tickets in their first two-and-a-half months of operation, accounting for a major share of all speeding tickets in the city.
The high profile of Vision Zero may also be having an effect. Elected officials from Mayor de Blasio on down have been talking about the need to prevent traffic violence, and that could be influencing people’s behavior behind the wheel to some extent.
Then there’s the weather. In 2012, when traffic deaths increased nationally for the first time in seven years, the mild winter was cited as a potential factor. The harsh winter in NYC this year may have produced the opposite effect. New Yorkers were less exposed to traffic violence because they were walking and biking less, and drivers may have been less inclined to speed with more ice and slush coating the streets. We don’t have national figures yet to determine if the change in NYC is specific to the city or part of a broader trend.
While it’s too early to say exactly what’s causing the improvement in street safety this year, it looks like NYPD’s shifting enforcement priorities are helping and so is the city’s fledgling automated speed enforcement program, but we still need to do a whole lot more.