TA: Most City Pedestrians and Cyclists Killed by Drivers Who Broke the Law

Crash data analyzed by Transportation Alternatives revealed that most city pedestrians and cyclists killed during a 14-year span died because drivers broke an enforceable traffic law.

A new report from Transportation Alternatives finds that, while NYPD fails to rein in or punish reckless driving, the majority of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are caused by illegal behavior behind the wheel.

“Deadly Driving Unlimited: How the NYPD Lets Dangerous Drivers Run Wild” [PDF] reveals that between 1995 and 2009, 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes were the result of motorists breaking traffic laws, according to data from the state Department of Transportation. Of crashes that killed or seriously injured pedestrians, 36 percent were caused by driver inattention, 25 percent were caused by failure to yield, and 20 percent were caused by speeding.

Data for the report was obtained from the state DOT, which receives individual crash reports from NYPD, after “multiple” Freedom of Information Law requests.

While speeding is a leading factor in fatal crashes — responsible for 322 deaths from 2005 to 2008, according to the health department’s 2010 NYC Vital Signs report — in 2011 NYPD issued more citations for tinted windows, the report says. Citing the NYC DOT Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, the report notes that 47 percent of crashes resulting in pedestrian death or severe injury occurred at signalized intersections, and that 57 percent of those crashes happened as the pedestrian crossed with the signal.

When a pedestrian or cyclist is killed in traffic, the NYPD investigation is often hampered by the “dead or likely to die” rule. Per NYPD protocol, thousands of crashes resulting in severe injury are never investigated at all, allowing motorists to maim with impunity. In 2011, the 19 officers of the Accident Investigation Squad — the only officers on the force trained and authorized to investigate serious crashes — worked 304 cases, according to the report. To put that in perspective, 7,371 vulnerable street users were injured in city traffic in the first six months of 2012, while 79 were killed. Failing to provide AIS-level investigations in cases of serious injury is a violation of state law, says TA.

Meanwhile, the report says that NYPD has slashed personnel from the unit responsible for enforcing speed limits on neighborhood streets at three times the rate of personnel lost by the department as a whole. Responsibility for enforcement was shifted to the precincts, the report says, though “those precincts weren’t allocated the necessary personnel, equipment or other resources necessary to tackle the task.”

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg tout city traffic fatality figures, but New York’s per capita traffic fatality rate exceeds that of other world cities. Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong and Tokyo have fatality rates that are 35 to 50 percent lower than New York’s, according to the report.

To make pedestrians, cyclists and motorists safer, TA is again calling on the city to convene a task force charged with assessing traffic enforcement and crash investigation protocols. Last month, City Council members introduced legislation to create such a task force, which would be comprised of representatives from NYPD, NYC DOT, the Department of Health, district attorneys’ offices, street safety advocates and others.

The report urges the state to pass speed camera legislation, which has the support of Mayor Bloomberg, NYC DOT and NYPD. TA says NYPD must eliminate the “dead or likely to die” rule, and initiate a crackdown on deadly violations such as speeding and failure to yield.

“NYPD consistently underestimates the threat of dangerous drivers, and consistently fails to bring those drivers to justice,” the report reads. “Road safety is not our Department’s priority.”

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

    “NYPD consistently underestimates the threat of dangerous drivers, and consistently fails to bring those drivers to justice,” the report reads. “Road safety is not our Department’s priority.”http://goo.gl/WdmPH

  • Station44025

    Stop trying to turn NYC into Hong Kong, Paris, Berlin or Tokyo!  /sarcasm

  • Anonymous

    a little confused on where cyclists fit in. does the category “pedestrian’s error/confusion” include cyclists who were hit by automobiles? how are deaths caused by cyclists (either to themselves or to pedestrians) accounted for? this would be useful information to have for those of us looking to rebut the “two-wheeled scourge” meme.

  • Daniel Winks

    “View obstructed/view limited/glare” is not enforceable?  Last I checked, if one can’t see over a hill, around a curve, etc, one DRIVES SLOWER.  All 3.9% of those fatalities are “Unsafe Speed”, period.  If there’s glare, one drives slower.  “Environmental Factors” are also “Unsafe Speed”.  “Passenger Distraction” is enforceable, as is “Fell Asleep”. 

  • I like where this is going, but it’s abundantly clear that no one on the executive side of city government is going to “form a task force” and grant it pure political authority of any kind against the interests of the police commissioner (who, BTW, is complicit in these statistics, not just laden with them). 

    And here I am without a superior, effective suggestion. I guess, rather than just forming a task force, we need some outside coalition with political authority to step up and BE a task force. It should be the sort of thing where Bloomberg can’t be dismissive of the idea because it’s already happening and the people involved cannot be shooed out of the media. Sadly, we are short on people with real traffic knowledge “authority” in America. Indeed, traffic “engineers” just make it up as they go along, wondering why there are traffic backups on their 14-lane highways daily.

  • Note: I suggested traffic authorities to step up to the task because this is not about the police needing to be convinced that they have the authority to make these arrests; it’s about the police believing that it’s in their best interests to use their power in this particular way. But it’s clumsy to just blame traffic engineers for designing roads that don’t calm themselves. The NYPD has taken strong steps to minimize enforcement of reckless driving practices in most parts of the city, despite any voter mandates to act otherwise.

  • Ben Kintisch

    I’m reading this from Berlin, (visiting for a couple of weeks) and it feels really safe: a combination of well-engineered roads and laws that protect vulnerable users. Simply put, if a German motorist injures a pedestrian or a cyclist, a crime has been committed. If the pedestrian or cyclist is proven to have committed an infraction that led to the accident, they share the blame and punishment. Similar laws exist in countries all over the world, particularly Western Europe.

  • Anonymous

    I’m in complete accord with Daniel Winks’ comments, e.g., view/glare issues devolve into unsafe speed.

    I would also have tried to drill into the DWI categories, which together accounted for 16.5% of fatalities, since drugs and drink simply enable/facilitate the speeding / red-light running / failure to yield / etc. that are the proximate/actual crash causes. (Perhaps the researchers attempted this?)

    Last, the report might have briefly noted the earlier, similar findings in “Killed By Automobile” (pdf).

  • KillMoto

    How about an all volunteer “Motorist Mayhem Investigative Squad (MMIS)”.  Volunteers sign up & get a bit of training about evidence capture.  Then when there’s an injury causing traffic crime committed, participants are contacted (twitter, txt, email, etc).  Anyone nearby responds with smart phone.  Takes pix of skids, damaged car, injured victim.  Interviews witnesses on smart phone cam (with permission).  Uploads to a special YouTube channel for other volunteers to put together a case package – for the police, or for a lawsuit against the police.  

    OK, the evidence can be used to sue the perpetrator of the traffic crime, too. 

    Oh, I’m a dreamer…

  • Anonymous

    @c44dc01f8107c1b33104b538f33b734d:disqus I think your MMIS idea is pretty smashing. Count me in.

  • Guest

    It is disgusting just how much the NYPD has willfully abandoned public safety and the rule of law.

    Forget any attempt at deterrence when it comes to vehicular crimes.  They won’t even pursue people after they maim and kill!  

  • Ian Turner

    I seriously doubt that NYPD would give volunteers access to crash sites.

    However, if New York has a citizen complaint statute (does it?), then volunteers could write traffic or parking tickets.


  • KillMoto

    Ian, crashes happen on public roads, or on the sidewalk, or just inside a store where the vehicle finally came to a stop.  Maybe volunteer evidence gathering has to stop at the “POLICE LINE – DO NOT CROSS” tape, but from what I gather the police don’t bother to secure these crime scenes at all.  All that’s needed is someone to get close enough to snap photos, or arrive soon enough to ask potential witnesses.  

  • flatbushfred

    I note with interest that there is no mention of accidents caused by cyclists.  Does this mean that NO accidents are caused by bike riders?  Is jaywalking considered “pedestrian error?”  Jaywalking is enforceable.  How about bikes running stop signs and red lights, also enforceable, no stats on that?  Is it OK for bike riders to be talking on their phones while riding?  Maybe some of these stats should be better explained.

  • Ian Turner

    @2dfaf29a11abf1b5f38e11e9c4b00eb3:disqus : It’s as simple as this: The city does not publish statistics on crashes or other incidents which do not involve a motor vehicle. They lumped in with other incidents, like slips trips, and falls, so the data is not available to TA to put in this report.

    The main reason, of course, why the city does not report crashes with bicycles is because they are rare, and because when they do occur people tend to walk away rather than going to the hospital or morgue. Even property damage, when it occurs, generally falls under the magic $500 threshold, a near impossibility when a car is involved.

  • The per capita traffic fatality rate is higher in Chicago than New York City. So you’re beating us there. I brought this up here: http://gridchicago.com/2011/safer-roadway-designs-how-danes-make-right-turns/

  • Mattucee

    @flatbushfred here’s wome more simple math; @2dfaf29a11abf1b5f38e11e9c4b00eb3:disqus
    avg. bicycle & rider = 150 to 250 lbs. operating at 1 human power
    avg. car & driver = 2500 to 3500 lbs operating at 150 to 200 horse power.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    Is the per capita number of cars similar? How many deaths per 100,000 cars?


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