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TA: NYPD Enforcement Priorities Don’t Match Its Own Street Safety Data

1:17 PM EDT on October 11, 2013

Yesterday, Transportation Alternatives released a report [PDF] highlighting the mismatch between what causes fatal and serious crashes, according to NYPD crash reports, and what police choose to prioritize when it comes to traffic enforcement.

The report lists some statistics to illustrate the public safety crisis on the city's streets: One New Yorker suffers a traffic-related injury every eight minutes, has a traffic-related injury resulting in permanent disability or disfigurement every three hours, and is killed in a car crash every 33 hours. Nearly a third of New Yorkers know someone who has been seriously injured or killed in a crash. Motor vehicle crashes are the top cause of injury-related death for NYC children, and number two for seniors.

These crashes are caused by rule violations that, if enforced, could prevent crashes from occurring, the report says. Six in 10 crashes are caused by a driver who committed at least one traffic violation, with half of those crashes involving speeding or failure to yield to a pedestrian. Speeding drivers are the top cause of fatal crashes, killing more New Yorkers than drunk drivers or drivers on cell phones combined.

But instead of focusing on local streets where pedestrians are most vulnerable and speeding is rampant, 73 percent of speeding summonses in 2012 were issued by the NYPD Highway Unit, and 66 of 76 precincts issued less than one speeding summons a day.

Failure to yield to pedestrians was the leading cause of crashes resulting in injuries in 2011, but on average, NYPD precincts issued fewer than 12 failure to yield summonses each month last year, the report says.

Instead, NYPD has other traffic enforcement priorities: The department issued 24,900 tickets for defective headlights last year, meaning that precincts issued twice as many defective headlight summonses as they did for failure to yield. Defective headlights led to zero fatal crashes and 12 crashes with injury in 2011.

The department issued even more tickets for excessive window tint, writing a total of 95,866 summonses last year, with 70 percent of precincts writing up at least one window tint violation a day. At a City Council hearing on NYPD traffic safety policies last month, Deputy Chief John Cassidy, executive officer of the transportation bureau, made a traffic safety argument for tinted window violations. "These people with the heavily tinted windows are not seeing pedestrians or bicyclists," he said. NYPD's own numbers belie that argument: In 2011, officers did not cite tinted windows in any fatal or injury-causing crashes.

The report says there are some precincts that are models for reform, but the department at large has not adopted these changes. The 26th, 28th and 32nd precincts in Upper Manhattan increased the number of speeding summonses by 1,500 percent from 2011 to 2012, while the 40th, 42nd and 47th precincts in the Bronx increased the number of failure to yield summonses by 547 percent over the same period.

With less than three months left in the Bloomberg administration, Transportation Alternatives is looking to the next mayor to change the NYPD's traffic safety policies. “Just as our city has made it a priority to tackle gun violence," executive director Paul Steely White said in a statement, "The next mayor needs a serious plan to address traffic injuries and deaths."

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