How Meaningful Was NYPD’s Weekend Speeding Sweep?

A few thoughts on the NYPD “anti-speeding initiative” the department conducted last weekend, when police issued 736 citations to drivers across the five boroughs.

First, it’s a good sign that NYPD seems to be responding to public pressure to tame speeding drivers, and that the department sees PR value in highlighting this enforcement effort. These speeding tickets may represent a significant uptick in enforcement on local streets, but since NYPD hasn’t revealed much about where the ticketing happened, it’s difficult to say with certainty.

It is not known if police concentrated on pulling over drivers on limited-access highways or on surface streets, where speeding puts pedestrians and cyclists at risk. Of the 71,305 motorists cited for speeding in 2012, 52,186 of them were ticketed by the NYPD Highway Patrol unit, according to data scraped from NYPD moving violations reports. Local precincts ticketed just 19,119 drivers for speeding through neighborhoods last year.

Inspector Michael J. Hurley of Patrol Borough Manhattan North acknowledged last April that speeding enforcement is “usually done on the highways, mainly done by the highway district.” It is possible that local precincts participated in last weekend’s initiative, or it could be that the Highway Patrol stationed officers on neighborhood streets. We have a message in with NYPD concerning where the summonses were issued.

But let’s say every one of those 736 tickets was written for speeding on local streets. Based on the 19,119 speeding citations issued by precincts in 2012, 736 tickets in three days (assuming the initiative lasted all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) would be over four times the “normal” rate. That’s a big increase, but since NYPD does not measure traffic law compliance, it’s impossible to know how many motorists are cited for speeding versus the total number of motorists who speed.

“Transportation Alternatives applauds the NYPD’s groundbreaking speeding enforcement initiative,” said TA, in a statement issued today. “We call on the next mayor to appoint a police commissioner who will use data-driven enforcement across the five boroughs to target most dangerous traffic infractions — speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians.”

A citywide survey by TA from 2009 found 39 percent of all drivers on surface streets exceeding the speed limit. A 2012 TA report determined that speeding kills more New Yorkers than drunk driving and distracted driving combined. The NYPD press release says “speeding remains the leading contributor of collisions citywide.”

We know that speeding is the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC, and traffic crashes consistently rank as the number one injury-related killer of children in the city. While a citywide ticketing sweep is welcome news, aggressively targeting drivers who engage in behavior that injures and kills thousands of New Yorkers a year should be all in a day’s work, every day, for NYPD.