SPEED DEMONS: The Scourge of Reckless Driving is Way Worse Than We Thought

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

This story was updated on April 5 at 6:30 p.m. to reflect the latest numbers from the Department of Finance. It was updated again on April 6 to add in a quote from Sam Schwartz.

City speed cameras are nabbing far more drivers than they were during the normal, pre-corona days — even though the numbers of cars on the road is down dramatically.

Over the 14 weekdays between March 5 and March 24, city speed cameras issued 180,718 summonses, or 12.3 percent more than the comparable 14-day period in January (Jan. 13-31), when just 158,510 speeding tickets are issued by cameras, city data show. (Cameras only issue tickets on weekdays.)

The 12-plus-percent increase in tickets come as the total number of vehicle miles traveled in the five boroughs is down by 71 percent from that same January baseline, according to data from StreetLight.

The latest speed camera data from the Department of Finance confirm what everyone is seeing out on the streets: Drivers are taking advantage of traffic-free streets to speed with reckless abandon. (It even prompted a Streetsblog song parody.)

The new data builds on stats, reported by Streetsblog last week, that covered March 5-16. But that coverage was based on preliminary data that the Finance Department has updated with hundreds more tickets that have worked through the system.

Camera-Issued Speeding Tickets 14 days 2020
Source: Department of Finance data

Vehicle miles traveled on March 24 were 80 percent less than the January benchmark.

Streetsblog has asked the NYPD to discuss the automated numbers and to explain whether cops are under orders to crack down on speeding, but the agency would not respond to repeated questions.

On March 24, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said this in response to Streetsblog’s question about whether the NYPD would do anything about the speeding.

“We’d have to look at the data. It’s a little preliminary. You know, I can certainly pass it on to Billy Morris, our chief of Transportation who works very closely with DOT. And again, we’re in the middle of uncharted territory here, but we have not taken our eye off traditional crime. We haven’t taken our eye off many of the things that we do with communities throughout New York City and we haven’t taken our eye off Vision Zero either. So, if we have to reassess it and move resources around, we certainly will. I’ll have Billy Morris take a look at that and reach out to DOT. But thank you for bringing it up.”

Morris did not respond. Meanwhile, the city’s former traffic director Sam Schwartz tried to explain what’s going on.

“With less traffic, drivers are getting to their destinations faster than ever — so why speed?” said the traffic engineer known worldwide as Gridlock Sam. “I’m no psychologist, but maybe all the pent-up frustration, anger and anxiety is manifesting itself when people get behind the wheel? Whatever it is — STOP IT! Slow down; don’t add more patients to our already overloaded hospitals.”

Speeding is not just an issue during the coronavirus pandemic. As the video below shows, drivers are increasingly accustomed to being able to get around with virtually no delays caused by tens of thousands of other drivers in their way.

As such, after the virus crisis subsides, some road-safety activists believe that drivers will not want to go back to typical New York conditions. Many are already gearing up to re-argue long-settled debates about how roadways should be allocated.