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Department of Health & Mental Hygiene

Traffic Remains the Top Injury-Related Killer of NYC Kids Under 15

Last week, the city announced that it is kicking off the school year with the gradual roll-out of all 140 school zone speed cameras allowed under state law. There's good reason for the expansion: Despite drops in fatality rates over the past decade, a report from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene shows that traffic remains the leading injury-related killer of New York City children.

NYC's streets remain the top cause of injury-related death for children. Photo: Susan Sermoneta/Flickr
Car crashes remain the top cause of injury-related death for children under 15 in NYC. Photo: Susan Sermoneta/Flickr
NYC's streets remain the top cause of injury-related death for children. Photo: Susan Sermoneta/Flickr

Each year, the health department releases a report on injury-related causes of death for New Yorkers under the age of 18, using data from death certificates and the medical examiner's office [PDF]. This includes fatalities from fire, drowning, suffocation, firearms, and falls.

As in previous reports, motor vehicle-related deaths are the top injury-related cause of death for New Yorkers ages 1 to 14, accounting for nearly 25 percent of all injury-related deaths in that age group from 2002 to 2011. Firearms account for a greater share of fatalities among 15- to 17-year-olds. In the 10-year study period, 216 New York City children age 1 to 17 died in motor vehicle crashes.

Things are worse in the rest of the country, where a higher mortality rate for people under 18 is driven in large part by a much higher death rate from car crashes. The motor vehicle fatality rate for children in the U.S. is more than four times higher than for children in New York City. This difference is most pronounced among children age 15 to 17. In New York, this age group is six times less likely to die in a motor vehicle crash than their peers in the rest of the nation.

Kids are more likely to be killed in NYC car crashes as pedestrians rather than as motor vehicle occupants, with children on foot accounting for 73 percent of traffic deaths among 5- to 14-year-olds. By examining NYC DOT's traffic fatality database, the authors determined many of these victims were children emerging from between parked cars or crossing against the light. Separately, DOT has identified driver speed as the top factor in fatal crashes overall, most recently using data from 2012.

"Injuries are often inaccurately seen as a result of incidents that cannot be anticipated or avoided," the report says. "However, most injuries follow patterns… that can be predicted and prevented." The report recommends educating children about street safety, encouraging adults to drive carefully, implementing safer street designs, and expanding the use of automated enforcement.

The report does not mention Vision Zero, but a guiding principle of that program seems appropriate to mention here: Streets should be places where people, especially very young people, can make mistakes without losing their lives.

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