How Meaningful Was NYPD’s Weekend Speeding Sweep?

A few thoughts on the NYPD “anti-speeding initiative” the department conducted last weekend, when police issued 736 citations to drivers across the five boroughs.

First, it’s a good sign that NYPD seems to be responding to public pressure to tame speeding drivers, and that the department sees PR value in highlighting this enforcement effort. These speeding tickets may represent a significant uptick in enforcement on local streets, but since NYPD hasn’t revealed much about where the ticketing happened, it’s difficult to say with certainty.

It is not known if police concentrated on pulling over drivers on limited-access highways or on surface streets, where speeding puts pedestrians and cyclists at risk. Of the 71,305 motorists cited for speeding in 2012, 52,186 of them were ticketed by the NYPD Highway Patrol unit, according to data scraped from NYPD moving violations reports. Local precincts ticketed just 19,119 drivers for speeding through neighborhoods last year.

Inspector Michael J. Hurley of Patrol Borough Manhattan North acknowledged last April that speeding enforcement is “usually done on the highways, mainly done by the highway district.” It is possible that local precincts participated in last weekend’s initiative, or it could be that the Highway Patrol stationed officers on neighborhood streets. We have a message in with NYPD concerning where the summonses were issued.

But let’s say every one of those 736 tickets was written for speeding on local streets. Based on the 19,119 speeding citations issued by precincts in 2012, 736 tickets in three days (assuming the initiative lasted all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) would be over four times the “normal” rate. That’s a big increase, but since NYPD does not measure traffic law compliance, it’s impossible to know how many motorists are cited for speeding versus the total number of motorists who speed.

“Transportation Alternatives applauds the NYPD’s groundbreaking speeding enforcement initiative,” said TA, in a statement issued today. “We call on the next mayor to appoint a police commissioner who will use data-driven enforcement across the five boroughs to target most dangerous traffic infractions — speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians.”

A citywide survey by TA from 2009 found 39 percent of all drivers on surface streets exceeding the speed limit. A 2012 TA report determined that speeding kills more New Yorkers than drunk driving and distracted driving combined. The NYPD press release says “speeding remains the leading contributor of collisions citywide.”

We know that speeding is the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC, and traffic crashes consistently rank as the number one injury-related killer of children in the city. While a citywide ticketing sweep is welcome news, aggressively targeting drivers who engage in behavior that injures and kills thousands of New Yorkers a year should be all in a day’s work, every day, for NYPD.

  • Anonymous

    Great reporting, Brad. Now let’s dig a little deeper into the numbers.

    Right now there’s no basis for assuming that all — or indeed, any — of the 736 speeding tickets issued Oct 11-13 were issued on local streets. So all we can do at this point is compare the Oct 11-13 per-day average of 245 total speeding tickets vs. the all-of-2012 per-day average of 195 total speeding tickets.

    The increase, 50 tickets a day, is 26% — hardly worth a press release, unless many more of the tickets were issued on local streets than is customary.

  • This is how you know the NYPD doesn’t really care about this: they don’t even measure compliance data for traffic. Do you think that would be more or less difficult a task than to embed undercover police officers in mosques all over NY/NJ to spy on them?

  • JK

    How about 736 speeding tickets just on the stretch of Riverside Drive between 125th and 95th Street, from 7:30am and 8:30am on any given weekday? That’s about how many drivers are speeding during my ride to work.

  • Andrew

    When’s the failure-to-yield-to-pedestrians sweep?

  • Daniel

    I think if the speeding tickets were issued on city streets then this really is significant. 245 speeding tickets per day on residential roads is a lot more than the 0 speeding tickets issued each day. Realistically though, chasing down speeders on city streets doesn’t make any rational sense. Have the cops park their car and write up tickets that are mailed to the perps. Then a single cop can write 245 speeding tickets in a day. Ten thousand cops can write about 2.45 million speeding tickets per day, that kind of smart policing would be a game changer.

  • Joe R.

    You would need to install some type of camera system in patrol cars which could measure speed, read license plate numbers, and automatically write up tickets. This in turn would probably require some legislation. A car speeding by a stopped cruiser will be going much too fast for a human to read the license plate number.

    You’re correct that chasing down speeders on local streets makes no sense. This is why I suspect speed enforcement is lax. It would create as many problems as it solves. There are short and long term solutions here. Short term speed enforcement should be automated. Long term infrastructure and possible GPS speed control should make speeding physically impossible.

    On the flip side, we can and should increase the highway speed limit from 50 mph to whatever the 95th percentile speed is. This is how it should have been set in the first place. If motorists know they can go reasonable speeds on expressways without worrying about tickets, then they’re more likely to favor expressways instead of local streets.

  • Anonymous

    It is my opinion that virtually every motorist in NYC speefs whenever ,the rule is occupy two lanes and go around twice the limit.conditions favor or allow speeding. I will add that at night on the Williamsburg bridge

  • Anonymous

    That would go for cyclists and motorists.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll readily admit that I would probably speed quite a bit as a cyclist if not for my power limitations, although not as much as motorists. It’s one thing to drive 55 mph down a wide, major arterial at, say, 10 PM or later when there aren’t a lot of pedestrians around. It’s quite another to be doing the same thing during the middle of the day. Speeding wouldn’t be such an issue if motorists would exercise a little common sense and drive at speeds inversely proportional to traffic density. By traffic, I also mean pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Heck, I even slow down on my bike when I’m around a lot of pedestrians. I just don’t see why motorists can’t do the same.

  • Ian Turner

    I think the only reason it would require legislation would be so the ticket can be issued to the owner of the car, rather than the driver. But if we’re going to go that route, why use cruisers? Fixed cameras would be more reliable and harder to dispute.

  • Anonymous

    Fine with me. I’d rather see cyclists ticketed for whipping through full crosswalks than for rolling through empty intersections.

  • Andrew

    Of course.

    Since motorists violate pedestrians’ rights-of-way far more often, and with far more disastrous results, though, I certainly hope that enforcement is primarily targeted at motorists.

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