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.

  • ffg

    Why not start by setting the school zone speed limit at 10, 15 for most of the rest of the city. tickets for 10 over those limits would leave things a lot safer.

  • EricBoucher

    How many drivers are there in NYC, 2 million? 3 million? 4 million? That’s how many speeding tickets there should be.

  • Max Power

    Shouldn’t the metric of success be the decrease in speeds in school zones while kids are walking there & back, not the number of tickets issued?
    If speeds decrease without a single ticket being issued, the program is working. If thousands of tickets are being issued, but speeds remain high, it isn’t.

  • Reader

    The cameras have only been on for a couple of weeks, correct? It’s going to take some time for the first batch of tickets to reach drivers’ mailboxes and for enough motorists to be ticketed so that behavior starts to be influenced. Word has to get out. Give it time.

    If in a year people aren’t changing their behavior, that might tell us that the fines are too low or the program needs to be tweaked.

  • JK

    Nope, not at the start of the program. Now, the number of violations definitely matters. Red light cams were issuing eight to ten times the number of violations per camera when they were first turned on. Why are the number of speed summonses so very low compared to red light cams? We know that speeding is ubiquitious. Can such low numbers of summonses change this long established dangerous behavior and produce measurable changes in speeds?

    Do cameras set to issue violations for 40mph reduce motorists hitting dangerous speeds of 35 to 39mph? We’ll see, but it seems very unlikely that a program that moves 20 cams around to any of hundreds of locations across a giant city is going to measurably reduce speeds in the next year. Each red light cam was moved around to three well known locations, whereas the speed cams are mobile and can go anywhere. I’m a huge proponent of speed cameras, but am left wondering about the efficacy of this program by these very low numbers of violations. We’ll see what happens when all 20 cams go online. It will be especially interesting if DOT publishes speed surveys done by the cams which show large numbers of motorists driving 35 to 39mph.

  • Kevin Love

    These cameras have been operating since last September 9. And there are only six of them installed? What’s the problem? Why don’t we have all 20 up and running almost 5 months since the first cameras went live?

    Before anyone asks Albany for more, I suggest first using the power we already have to move the number of cameras from 6 to 20. Preferably before wasting another 5 months.

  • PhotoRadarscam

    Exceeding the posted limit is not a major cause of pedestrian crashes, and cameras will do little to help. This is a feel-good measure by traffic engineer wannabe’s who do not understand traffic safety.

    In 45 percent of cases, investigators determined that the driver
    did nothing wrong, and police officers issued no ticket in more
    than 60 percent of cases. Inattention (14 percent), failure to
    yield (10 percent) and driving under the influence of alcohol (9.3
    percent) were the most common causes. Speeding was only mentioned
    in 4 accident reports, and only one speeding ticket was issued.


    293 children under age
    15 were killed while walking in the United States in 2010. Out of 4227 total fatalities for
    all ages, the pedestrian was legally drunk in one-third of the
    incidents. The driver was legally intoxicated 14 percent of the time. In 6
    percent of the cases, a drunk driver hit a drunk pedestrian.

    What will cameras do to catch drunk drivers and pedestrians? Will you feel better if they get a ticket in the mail weeks after they hit someone?

  • qrt145

    In case you missed the disclaimer in your first link: “most police accident reports do not mention driver-related factors contributing to the pedestrian-motor vehicle fatalities”. Failure to investigate or report a crash properly does not imply that no speeding was involved.

    What will speed cameras in NYC do to solve the Middle East Crisis? Since they don’t solve all the problems in the world, they are clearly worthless!


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Details concerning New York City’s first-ever speed camera program are scarce. To slow down as many speeding drivers as possible with the small number of cameras permitted by Albany, this is as it should be. On Tuesday, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan joined Mayor Bloomberg at P.S. 81 in Riverdale, where 96 percent of motorists observed for […]