Additional reporting by Ben Fractenberg
As Albany lawmakers decide whether to extend or expand New York City’s speed enforcement camera program, NYPD records show crashes citywide have become less likely during the limited hours the cameras are turned on, and more likely when they’re shut off.
The current speed camera law, which expires June 30, allows cameras at 750 locations near schools to operate strictly between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays.
So far this year, overnight and weekend vehicle collisions accounted for about 41% of all crashes, compared to 33% in the months before the state expanded the number of camera locations from 140 in mid-2019, an analysis by THE CITY of 1.8 million NYPD records finds.
THE CITY’s analysis zeroed in on dates between Jan. 1 and May 10 of each year, dating back to 2013. The numbers show crashes declined sharply overall during that period in both 2020 and 2021, coinciding with COVID shutdowns and a halting recovery. The number of crashes so far this year, at just over 35,000, is less than half the 2019 number.
But the number of crashes is beginning to rise — and all of the growth is happening during the hours the cameras are turned off. The number of crashes during the on-camera hours was down slightly this year over last.
During 2020 and 2021, Department of Transportation cameras generated more than 4.3 million speed violations each year, each resulting in a $50 ticket mailed to the vehicle’s registered owner.
DOT stats show that a small but growing number of tickets can’t be issued because of mutilated, obstructed or phony license plates, THE CITY recently reported.
Mayor Eric Adams and Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez reportedly failed to persuade state legislative leaders to embrace a long-shot request to give New York City local control over the cameras.
Meanwhile, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (D-Brooklyn) has a bill pending that would not only renew the cameras but make them operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. His bill also proposes harsher penalties tied to cars with multiple traffic violations.
“The data speaks for itself in terms of how successful this program is,” said Gounardes. “But there are obviously clear gaps in how protective it is because of hours limitations and days limitations.”
His immediate priority is to keep the program going at all: The legislature’s session is scheduled to end June 2, and all cameras will go dark July 1 if the program is not renewed.
“We are still actively negotiating what the final bill will look like,” said Gounardes, adding that he is “reasonably confident” about reaching a deal to make cameras functional around the clock.
“Everything is still in flux and we have just a couple of days left to go before Albany closes up for the year. So I don’t want to take anything for granted. But I feel like we’re getting to a good place,” Gounardes added.
‘Such an Injustice’
Even as traffic crashes plummeted during the pandemic, they are proving more likely to be fatal. Last year, with 297 deaths, was the deadliest since 2014, when then-Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged to eliminate traffic fatalities under his Vision Zero program.
Through May 10, 2022, 83 vehicle occupants, pedestrians and cyclists died in traffic crashes, compared with 79 in the same period last year. About three in five of the fatal crashes took place during the hours when cameras were off, according to the safe streets advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
THE CITY’s analysis showed that so far this year, 25 out of 35 vehicle occupants and 16 out of 40 pedestrians died in crashes that took place during no-camera hours.
“Adding speed enforcement at night and holding drivers accountable would certainly reduce the number of crashes. It shows that there is a need for speed cameras,” said transportation analyst and advocate Charles Komanoff.
Dennis Sanchez, a bicycle delivery worker, told THE CITY that he has noticed a “huge increase in speeding,” adding that he was almost run over by drivers and fellow cyclists on multiple occasions.
“It is just really out of control. People aren’t being courteous on the street. It seems like everybody is on a short fuse,” Sanchez said.
Street safety was a focus for City Council members who grilled Rodriguez at a budget hearing last week. Asked by Councilmember Justin Brannan about rising fatalities, Rodriguez said: “Reckless drivers is the cause of this epidemic,” adding, “There is no doubt that we’re having a bad year.”
In a recent summary of its case for expanding speed camera enforcement, Rodriguez’s agency said that “increased late-night speeding and reckless driving behavior” are two leading causes for the rise in traffic deaths and injuries.
The department reported that nearly one-third of traffic fatalities took place in school speed zones that had cameras, but at times when they were not legally permitted to operate: overnight and on weekends.
“It is such an injustice that these people who’ve lost everything, have to go and beg legislators in Albany for something that’s so simple and that’s proven to have worked,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.
Nearly a decade after her 24-year-old daughter and a friend were killed by a speeding driver at a Brooklyn intersection, Jane Martin-Lavaud agonizes over the increasing body count on city streets.
“We’re going backwards and particularly since the pandemic, it’s just totally out of control,” Martin-Lavaud, 63, told THE CITY. “I can’t even keep up and we’re just talking about fatalities, because the number of serious injuries is much higher.”
Leonora Lavaud, a student at Brooklyn College, was in a Toyota Camry driven by her friend, Andre Capers-Jones, when their car was slammed by an Acura whose 21-year-old driver also died, police said, after blowing through a red light at Avenue U and East 5th Street around 2 a.m. on January 5, 2013.
“This was a joyride, this was just speeding,” Jane Martin-Lavaud said. “I’ve heard numbers from the police that they were going between 60 and 100 miles per hour on a city street.”
Martin-Lavaud, a member of Families for Safe Streets, an organization founded by loved ones of people killed or injured in crashes, said she is “outraged” over statistics showing crashes have gone up during the late-night and early-morning hours when speed cameras are turned off.
“We need people to slow down. We cannot leave it to drivers to monitor themselves,” she said. “We need all the measures we can pull out of our reservoir to eliminate speeding on city streets.”