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Media Watch

There’s Still Nothing Special About a Million NYPD Traffic Summonses

To read the Daily News analysis of 2012 summons data, you'd think NYPD has reckless driving completely under control. While the story throws out a lot of purportedly high figures, as usual the tabloid's perspective is distorted by the windshield.

NYPD stopped as few as 19,119 drivers for speeding through city neighborhoods in 2012. Overall traffic enforcement is down 20 percent from four years ago. Photo: Daily News

NYPD issued a total of 1,020,754 moving violations last year [PDF]. That's down slightly from 2011 (1,062,889 total), and a marked drop from other recent years -- roughly 1.2 million per year from FY '05 through FY '08. And as we've reported before, merely counting tickets is not helpful in measuring the extent to which motorists are breaking traffic laws.

NYPD wrote 71,305 speeding summonses in 2012 (down from 76,493 in 2011). We asked analyst Charles Komanoff for his estimate of how many instances of speeding there are in NYC in a year, based on the Transportation Alternatives 2009 finding that 39 percent of city motorists clocked with radar guns and speed cameras were speeding.

There are roughly 24 billion motor vehicle miles traveled per year citywide, says Komanoff. "If the average trip is four miles, we have six billion motor vehicle trips per year. If 20 percent of those trips have at least one 'speeding moment' -- halving TA's 39 percent figure, to account for study bias toward arterials -- then 1.2 billion trips include speeding."

Seventy-one thousand speeding summonses for 1.2 billion "speeding moment" trips would equate to just six summonses for every 100,000 trips during which a driver exceeds the speed limit, Komanoff says. Even with a significant margin of error, that's a lot of motorists getting away with putting others at risk.

For some idea of how enforcement stacks up against violations in a specific neighborhood, our back-of-envelope calculation for Manhattan's 34th Precinct found that, in Inwood alone, 5.3 million drivers a year could be ticketed for speeding, again based on TA's 39 percent figure. The 34th Precinct issued 52 speeding summonses in 2012.

There's more. The News reported that 52,186 speeding tickets were issued on highways. If that figure is counted among the 71,305 total, in 2012 NYPD stopped just 19,119 motorists for speeding through neighborhoods.

A 2012 TA report found that between 1995 and 2009, 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes were in part the result of motorists breaking traffic laws, according to data from the state Department of Transportation. In crashes where pedestrians were seriously injured or killed and causes were identified, driver inattention was a factor in 36 percent, failure to yield in 25 percent, and speeding in 20 percent.

Motorists who disregard the law are not victims. Yet according to the Daily News, it's law-breaking drivers who are being "hit" and "clobbered," by NYPD. Except when they're not.

"Wow, a million violations, quotas are alive and well. The guys gotta write tickets," said one motorist. "I never get hit, I’m a retired detective."

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