TA: Most City Pedestrians and Cyclists Killed by Drivers Who Broke the Law

Crash data analyzed by Transportation Alternatives revealed that most city pedestrians and cyclists killed during a 14-year span died because drivers broke an enforceable traffic law.

A new report from Transportation Alternatives finds that, while NYPD fails to rein in or punish reckless driving, the majority of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities are caused by illegal behavior behind the wheel.

“Deadly Driving Unlimited: How the NYPD Lets Dangerous Drivers Run Wild” [PDF] reveals that between 1995 and 2009, 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes were the result of motorists breaking traffic laws, according to data from the state Department of Transportation. Of crashes that killed or seriously injured pedestrians, 36 percent were caused by driver inattention, 25 percent were caused by failure to yield, and 20 percent were caused by speeding.

Data for the report was obtained from the state DOT, which receives individual crash reports from NYPD, after “multiple” Freedom of Information Law requests.

While speeding is a leading factor in fatal crashes — responsible for 322 deaths from 2005 to 2008, according to the health department’s 2010 NYC Vital Signs report — in 2011 NYPD issued more citations for tinted windows, the report says. Citing the NYC DOT Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, the report notes that 47 percent of crashes resulting in pedestrian death or severe injury occurred at signalized intersections, and that 57 percent of those crashes happened as the pedestrian crossed with the signal.

When a pedestrian or cyclist is killed in traffic, the NYPD investigation is often hampered by the “dead or likely to die” rule. Per NYPD protocol, thousands of crashes resulting in severe injury are never investigated at all, allowing motorists to maim with impunity. In 2011, the 19 officers of the Accident Investigation Squad — the only officers on the force trained and authorized to investigate serious crashes — worked 304 cases, according to the report. To put that in perspective, 7,371 vulnerable street users were injured in city traffic in the first six months of 2012, while 79 were killed. Failing to provide AIS-level investigations in cases of serious injury is a violation of state law, says TA.

Meanwhile, the report says that NYPD has slashed personnel from the unit responsible for enforcing speed limits on neighborhood streets at three times the rate of personnel lost by the department as a whole. Responsibility for enforcement was shifted to the precincts, the report says, though “those precincts weren’t allocated the necessary personnel, equipment or other resources necessary to tackle the task.”

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg tout city traffic fatality figures, but New York’s per capita traffic fatality rate exceeds that of other world cities. Paris, Berlin, Hong Kong and Tokyo have fatality rates that are 35 to 50 percent lower than New York’s, according to the report.

To make pedestrians, cyclists and motorists safer, TA is again calling on the city to convene a task force charged with assessing traffic enforcement and crash investigation protocols. Last month, City Council members introduced legislation to create such a task force, which would be comprised of representatives from NYPD, NYC DOT, the Department of Health, district attorneys’ offices, street safety advocates and others.

The report urges the state to pass speed camera legislation, which has the support of Mayor Bloomberg, NYC DOT and NYPD. TA says NYPD must eliminate the “dead or likely to die” rule, and initiate a crackdown on deadly violations such as speeding and failure to yield.

“NYPD consistently underestimates the threat of dangerous drivers, and consistently fails to bring those drivers to justice,” the report reads. “Road safety is not our Department’s priority.”