Testimony at March 15th, 2012 Public Safety Budget Hearing

Testimony submitted by Paul Steely White, Executive Director Transportation Alternatives, at March 15th, 2012 New York City Council Public Safety Budget Hearing

Good morning Chair Vallone and Members of the City Council Public Safety Committee.

In 2011, more than half of New York’s Police precincts issued fewer than two speeding tickets a week. Hearing a statistic like that would lead some to conclude that speeding isn’t actually a problem. That assumption is fatally flawed. Speeding is the number one killer on New York City roads.

Dangerous Driving
Dangerous driving is a public health and public safety crisis in New York City and, given adequate resources and strategic allocation, the NYPD has the power to stop it.

Between 2001 and 2010, 1,745 pedestrians and bicyclists were killed in New York City traffic, and an additional 142,485 were injured. During this period, more New Yorkers were killed in traffic, 3,647, than murdered by guns, 3,558. Traffic is the number one cause of injury and death for kids 14 and under in New York City.

As long as the default NYPD response to a motor vehicle crash is “accidents happen,” New Yorkers will continue to be killed and injured by dangerous driving. Every year, New York State’s Department of Motor Vehicles compiles a list of crashes that occurred during the previous year and reports the causes of those crashes. We have analyzed that report and found that over 60 percent of crashes that injure or kill pedestrians and bicyclists in New York City were caused by drivers who are violating the law –speeding, driving while distracted, failing to yield, and so on. In other words, it is not an “accident” when a pedestrian is struck by a speeding motorist; these crashes are preventable.

Speeding and Enforcement
The City needs to invest more funding in helping local police precincts stop speeding on neighborhood streets.

Speeding, in particular, deserves special attention because speeding is the leading cause of fatal crashes in the five boroughs. In 2010, speeding drivers killed 45 people, and injured 2,300. Speeding drivers have less time to react to a dangerous situation, and they cause more harm upon impact. A pedestrian has a far better chance of surviving a crash with a driver who is complying with the 30 mph speed limit (80 percent survival rate), than a crash with a driver who is travelling at just 10 mph over the speed limit (30 percent survival rate at 40 mph).

The majority of speeding-related fatalities happen on neighborhood streets, yet seventy-nine percent of the speeding tickets issued by the NYPD in 2011 were written on limited access highways by the police department’s Highway Unit. This unit patrols the highways, leaving local precincts and neighborhoods on their own to ward off drivers who speed down local roads. Enforcement is lagging on neighborhood streets, where pedestrians are at risk - only 21 percent of the speeding tickets issued in 2011 were issued by precincts.

Precincts have not been able to meet the need. Some recent examples of the disconnect between speeding enforcement and speeding violations on neighborhood streets:
 Council Member Steven Levin conducted a study on Atlantic Avenue, steps from his district office, armed with a radar gun. Within a few hours, his office found that 88 percent of motorists exceeded the speed limit by at about 10 miles per hour. That precinct, the 84th, wrote 27 speeding tickets last year in the entirety of their district.
 A recent study conducted by Park Slope Neighbors inside Prospect Park found that 95 percent of cars (185 of 195) exceeded the 25 MPH speed limit by 5mph, and 46 percent were going 40 mph or faster. The average speed for all 195 sampled drivers was 38.7 mph, and the median speed was 39 – in a park. That precinct, the 78th, wrote 100 speeding tickets last year.

Now certainly there is an element of limited resources at play here – the police department as a whole has lost 15 percent of their personnel since 2001. Over that same period, the Highway Unit has lost an astonishing 44 percent of their personnel – their ranks dropped from 376 to 211 officers. The enforcement priorities which are set by the Department were made in substantial part because of these budgetary pressures.

But more resources alone won’t fix the entire problem. Along with more funding must come some examination of the priorities the Department sets and the strategies they use to achieve those priorities.

Tinted Windows: An Example of Misplaced Priorities
We are not aware of any crashes caused by tinted windows. Tinted windows may be a safety concern – but it cannot be a greater safety concern than speeding. In 2011, however, NYPD precincts issued four times as many tickets for tinted windows as for speeding (16,300 speeding tickets as compared to 65,900 tinted windows tickets). 74 of 76 precincts wrote more tinted windows tickets than speeding tickets. In 2011, the 103rd in Queens wrote 71 speeding tickets and 6,704 tinted windows tickets, and the 34th precinct in Manhattan wrote 17 speeding tickets and 1,025 tinted windows tickets. People are dying because of unexamined priorities.

Effective Strategies
Consider, in contrast, distracted driving, which ranks second to speeding in terms of enforceable causes of crashes. Precincts issued 147,576 cell phone tickets in 2011 – about nine times the tickets as they did for speeding.

The police department has made significant strides against distracted driving, and their strategy is worth our attention: On the first day, a crackdown is widely announced on TV, in the newspapers, etc. On the second day, the crackdown is launched, and on the third day the NYPD announces the number of tickets they wrote – the last crackdown yielded 3,500 distracted driving
tickets in one day and generated enormous public awareness about the dangers of distracted driving and of the NYPD’s efforts to prevent it.

Cost of Crashes
It is clear that the Council should work with the Police Department to provide the resources needed to combat the speeding epidemic. But it is just as clear that the Department must direct its resources toward those violations which most directly endanger New Yorkers.

There are enormous ramifications for our budget. According to Federal estimates, each fatal crash costs the New York City economy upwards of $16 million dollars in expenditures like lost worker productivity, emergency services costs, medical costs and litigation costs. The direct costs to the taxpayer in terms of preventable crashes, which are not prevented, undoubtedly results in a net loss of tens of millions of wasted dollars. If the NYPD’s efforts were more directed towards preventing serious crashes before they occur, the City’s bottom line would benefit. We ask that the Department, along with their partners in government, arrive at an estimate for this projected savings.

It is important to remember that the New York City Police Department is among the most sophisticated law enforcement operations in the country. It’s the sixth largest standing army in the world, it has officers stationed in scores of foreign nations and it can shoot down small aircraft. The question for us today is if its officers can do more to keep New Yorkers safe on our own streets and deter drivers from killing hundreds and injuring thousands of innocent people every year?

Everyone in this city has the right to travel safely. No one should go out their front door and expect anything less than to arrive at their destination alive. For these reasons, crash prevention must be a top priority of the Police Department.