Waiting for Raymond: New Yorkers Want Zero Tolerance for Speeding

Image: Daily News
Image: Daily News

Have a look at the un-scientific poll nested inside Michael Daly’s excellent Daily News column on speeding enforcement (penned in response to the case of Eric Hakimisefat, the 16-year-old un-licensed driver who killed a passenger after reaching 63 mph on a Midwood street and crashing into a tree). Currently, two-thirds of respondents think that all speeding is wrong.

And yet, out on the streets, nearly 40 percent of motorists are speeding, while enforcement is nearly non-existent. Our police commissioner (by many accounts the most important living New Yorker) responds to calls for speeding enforcement by, essentially, tossing up his hands.

Here’s Daly’s take on the speeding epidemic:

We have had zero tolerance for public drinking and urination. Why not zero tolerance for driving more than 30 mph in the city streets?

Every few days, we witness some new traffic tragedy, and too often we shrug. We were all horrified when we learned that the medical examiner’s office had retained a young car- accident victim’s brain without the family’s consent. The wreck that made him a candidate for an autopsy barely reached public attention.

Often when a motorist or a pedestrian or a bicyclist is killed by a speeder, the culprit escapes even a ticket because velocity after the fact can be hard to establish. Velocity as calculated by the speedometer of a trailing police car or a radar gun is a snap.

Take it from me. I used the speedometer on my wife’s car to catch then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani going 70 mph after he announced a supposed crackdown on speeding back in 1998.

Let’s have a real crackdown now.

Because speeding is so pervasive and NYPD’s resources are limited, to really crack down on it, NYC will need camera enforcement. Which means we need Albany to get moving on a speed camera bill. In the last legislative session, the state legislature made an unusual amount of progress on livable streets measures like bus lane enforcement, Hayley and Diego’s law, and smart growth, but Deborah Glick’s speed camera bill didn’t go far. Maybe in the next session, lawmakers who care about street safety can get this life-saving legislation passed.

Imagine how much easier their job would be if Ray Kelly and NYPD start making the case to the public that speeding has got to stop.

  • Doug G.

    There’s something that can be done without waiting for cameras to be installed.

    How hard would it be to station a cop on one end of a block with a radar gun and another cop on the other end of a block. If the first cop tracks a speeding car, he can radio to the officer at the other end to flag down the driver. The setup would pay for itself in less than an hour, I’d bet.

    Place pairs of cops on a handful of blocks around different areas, rotate them in and out of different neighborhoods on different days, and you’d probably nail more than a few people going at least 10 mph over the limit. Not only that, but the presence of a police car might slow people down anyway.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The case of Eric Hakimisefat, the 16-year-old un-licensed driver.”

    I draw another lesson here. How often are these terrible incidents caused by those who have no legal right to drive?

    Given the limited resources available for enforcement and court cases, society has made a substantial investment every time a person’s license is suspended. Then they just go out and drive anyway. No big deal.

    In this case, no one is allowed to drive unsupervised in New York City until they are 18 years old. And even then, the cost of uninsurnce for a new driver is do high that I balked at paying it for my kid, who balked at paying for it herself. And here you have a kid who feels free to get behind the wheel with no license or insurance at 16. Who gave him the key?

    No wonder Kelly throws up his hands.

    In addition to more automated tickets for those who speed, there needs to be more consequences for those who drive when not authorized to do so. The penalties for driving without a valid driver’s license and insurance should be significant; the penalties for causing serious harm while doing so should be severe.

  • fdr

    “Who gave him the key?” Maybe the dead girl’s family should sue the driver’s family. Some adult is responsible for a teenager.

  • They forgot to poll the residents of Prospect Park West, a good number of whom would appear to feel that speeding outside their front doors is preferable to a traffic-calmed avenue with a lovely, heavily utilized two-way bicycle path replete with shorter pedestrian crossings.

    Go figure.

  • Driver

    I would like to see the results of a similar survey that didn’t accompany an article about a child dying (at the hands of another child) and without referencing the incident in one of the choices. I’ll bet the results would be significantly different. The results shown are likely skewed by readers emotions after reading of this tragic death.

    Also, the choice “anything over the posted limit, and this case proves it.” is not an appropriate statement, as this accident involved a teen driving in excess of twice the legal limit. To make such a statement implies that there is no difference between someone driving 32 mph and someone driving 62 mph (in a 30 mph zone). Basing an argument against minor speeding (a few mph) by referencing this incident (excess of 30 mph) is pretty lame.

  • “Because speeding is so pervasive and NYPD’s resources are limited …”

    Ben, I don’t accept the premise that limits on NYPD’s resources are a major factor in the department’s chronic winking at the ongoing speeding epidemic, and I don’t think Streetsblog should, either.

  • Doug

    Driver: We can’t hang much on the unscientific poll in the article. We can take the data that says 30mph kills, while 20mph merely maims. Tolerating 32mph is not so different from tolerating 40mph, whereas the latter has a substantially higher fatality rate (of 90%). Broken windows theory of enforcement.

  • Joe R.

    “The penalties for driving without a valid driver’s license and insurance should be significant; the penalties for causing serious harm while doing so should be severe.”

    The penalty in my opinion for unlicensed driving should be confiscation of the car. The city can then auction it off and use the proceeds to pay to victim’s familys.

    As for speeding, I think we should defer to experts rather than the public. Fact is speed limits USED to be set at the 95th percentile, rounded up to the nearest 5 mph. This means 95% of the drivers by definition weren’t speeding. In turn, this let enforcement focus on those 5% who really were the most dangerous ones on the road. When we went to the 55 mph national speed limit in the 1970s, we opened a can of worms whereby we let legislators, instead of traffic engineers, set speed limits. The end result was the limits were set too low, and a majority of drivers violated them without any safety consequences. Once this happened, drivers felt it was safe to disregard ALL speed limits, even those properly set, often with dire consequences. And in fact, the disregard for speed limits eventually resulted in a disregard for other traffic laws, such as stopping at red lights, or signaling for turns, or yielding to pedestrians in crosswalks.

    The only way to rectify this is to go back to letting traffic engineers set speed limits so that they will resemble the speeds most drivers feel comfortable driving at. And let’s do away completely with legislatively mandated state maximum speed limits such as the 65 mph NYS maximum. If a traffic engineer measures a 95th percentile speed of 100 mph on a wide-open section of highway, then that’s what the limit should be set for in accordance with traffic-engineering principles which worked very well until legislators saw fit to interfere.

    Therefore, before there is any citywide crackdown on speeding or speed cameras, we first need to make sure the limits are set appropriately by qualified traffic engineers. This means measuring traffic speed on every single road rather than going with a blanket 30 mph speed limit. We may well find that on some residential streets the 95th percentile is only 25 mph instead of 30 mph. On the flip side, I’ll guess 40 or 45 mph might end up being more appropriate for wide arterials.

  • JK

    Joe R. You are mistaken. Speed limits on city streets have always been set by rule, not use. Two excellent books for you to read: Down the Asphalt Path by Clay McShane, and Fighting Traffic by Peter D Norton, both delve into the evolution of speed limits over the last hundred years. Far more importantly, speed limits are about much more than “driver comfort.” I don’t care if drivers are comfortable going 50mph on Broadway near where I live. As a resident, pedestrian, cyclist and parent, I don’t want motorists going that fast. Laws of physics and physiology mean higher speeds equal less reaction time and more serious crashes. Because we have to move some volumes of motor vehicles during peak periods, there will always be times when street capacity permits much higher speeds than the posted speed limit — especially on arterial streets.

  • Joe R.

    JK, my point is that drivers drive at whatever speeds they feel comfortable driving at, regardless of what the speed limit is set for, or even if there isn’t one. There are reams of studies which show this. If you think lowering speed limits will result in drivers going slower, then you are mistaken. That’s the reason the national 55 mph limit was repealed. Enforcing it was a lost cause, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. The way to slow traffic is to narrow the road so drivers no longer feel comfortable doing 50 mph or whatever speed. This works. On the Avenues where bike and bus lanes reduced the number of traffic lanes, speeds dropped.

    And regardless of whether city speed limits are set by rule or not, fact is they should be set by traffic engineers if we want reasonable compliance. If it turns out the resulting speed limit is too high for whatever reason, then the next step is to look into reengineering the street. Almost forget, on local streets they usually would use an 85th or 90th percentile to set the limit. The 95th percentile is generally for expressways. I’m reasonably sure even on Broadway the 85th or 90th percentile speed probably wouldn’t be anywhere near 50 mph. My guess would be between 35 and 40 mph. I don’t doubt the city needs traffic calming on some streets. Let’s just go about doing it the right way. Enforcement of artificially low limits is akin to trying to drill a hole in water.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The penalty in my opinion for unlicensed driving should be confiscation of the car. The city can then auction it off and use the proceeds to pay to victim’s familys.”

    I would say the penalty should be confiscation if there is no accident and no victim. With a victim, prison time should be mandatory.

  • J. Mork

    Joe, the technology exists to enforce speed limits on every single road and using automated speed cameras. It would make a lot of sense to set the speed limits to the actual safe limits and then enforce it. The problem, however is political will, not capability.

    (And I absolutely agree that infrastructure changes also make a huge difference.)

  • Joe R.

    “It would make a lot of sense to set the speed limits to the actual safe limits and then enforce it. The problem, however is political will, not capability.”

    Yes, and I read somewhere ( it may even have been right here on Streetsblog ) that part of the reason why is politicians love to be able to drive as fast as they want, especially when on business trips. Given that, they won’t make laws interfering with what they see as their God-given “right”.

    Thinking about this some more, and assuming Albany approves the automated speed cameras, I think the city should really try variable speed limits along with variable light timing. During business hours in the CBD, time the lights for 20 mph, and make drivers aware of this fact via electronic signs. Also, have an absolute speed limit perhaps 5 or 10 mph above the timed speed, displayed also via electronic signs, and enforced by cameras. A 20 mph timed speed when things are most crowded makes sense. Collisions with pedestrians would be much more surviveable. And bicycles would be able to keep up with the green wave, speeding up their travel times.

    At nights when traffic density goes down, and there’s fewer pedestrians/cyclists, then you would retime the green wave to whatever safe, reasonable speed the street can handle, perhaps 28 mph, 33 mph, whatever. The exact value would depend upon how the road is engineered. As before, you would set the absolute speed limit 5 to 10 mph higher, enforced by camera. You would prominently display the timed speed ( and also the absolute speed limit ) via electronic signs. This would allow the best of both worlds-safer, slower speeds when things are most crowded, better travel times when it’s somewhat safer to pick up the pace a bit. In both cases, the days of people going rididulous speeds like 55 mph along these arterials would be over, both because of the light timing and the cameras. You really wouldn’t gain anything trying to drive above the timed speed for any length of time as you would just end up catching the red wave. The reason to allow slightly higher speeds is so a motorist getting in on the tail end of the green wave might evenutally be able to catch up to the start of it.


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