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NYC Speed Cams Only Nabbing a Fraction of Speeders

After two weeks, it's clear that NYC's new automated speed camera program needs much more leeway from Albany in order to wrestle the city's dangerous speeding problem under control.

Pedestrian survival rates plummet as vehicle impact speeds approach 40 mph, but under the restrictions imposed by Albany, NYC's speed cameras don't even ticket anyone for traveling less than 10 mph over the 30 mph limit.

Under the law that state legislators passed to enable the program, speed cameras are currently operable only from one hour before the school day begins to one hour after school activities end. A driver can go up to 10 mph over the speed limit without getting a ticket. The camera-enforced penalty is $50, with no license points attached, regardless of how fast an offending motorist drives.

In their first 15 days of operation, DOT cameras ticketed 900 drivers for traveling at least 10 miles per hour over the speed limit in school zones. With six of 20 cameras reportedly activated, that breaks down to eight tickets per camera per day, rounding up. While we don't know where the cameras are located, that's almost certainly a much lower figure than the number of motorists who are actually speeding. A 2009 Transportation Alternatives study, for instance, clocked 39 percent of city motorists at select locations exceeding the 30 mph speed limit.

It's helpful to compare the number of speed camera tickets to the city's red light camera program. In 1994, the early days of automated red light enforcement in NYC, cameras ticketed around 80 drivers per day [PDF, page 42]. That's 10 times as many tickets as the speed cameras are issuing, even though it stands to reason that speeding is more prevalent than red light running. (Have you ever seen 39 percent of the drivers who pass through a signalized intersection run a red?)

Clearly, even at the speed camera locations, most people who speed aren't getting tickets. Given the way Albany hamstrung the program, this isn't much of a surprise. The 10 mph buffer is too big, and the time limitations are too strict.

If speed cameras are going to bring down traffic injuries and deaths significantly, NYC not only needs more cameras, but more freedom to use the cameras we do have to deter dangerous driving.

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