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John Hennessy III,

The Enforcement Gap: How the NYPD Ignores What’s Killing New Yorkers

Posted by Content Coordinator on Wednesday, October 16th, 2013



In order to reduce traffic deaths and injuries, the Police Department must increase enforcement of the most dangerous traffic violations, in particular speeding and failure to yield, as opposed to those violations which do not endanger public safety, such as defective headlights and excessive window tint.THE NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT’S (NYPD) STATED GOAL IN THE MAYOR’S MANAGEMENT REPORT IS TO “REDUCE THE INCIDENTS OF TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS, INJURIES AND FATALITIES.” This is a just and admirable aim, yet the NYPD is not doing everything it can to achieve it because the department ignores its own traffic safety data and chooses not to enforce the traffic violations that are the most harmful to New Yorkers. This is the enforcement gap.

All traffic crashes, injuries and deaths are preventable. The police know what causes them. The experts at the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad conduct forensic analysis to identify contributing factors. They could use this knowledge to target enforcement resources and eliminate the most common factors, but they do not.

Speeding and failure to yield, the two traffic infractions most dangerous to New Yorkers according to NYPD data, are enforced at a 31 percent lower rate than traffic violations that are among the least frequently cited causes of fatal or injurious crashes, like defective headlights. The level of enforcement for traffic infractions must be commensurate with their ability to kill and injure people, and right now this is not the case.

Every 33 hours a New Yorker is killed in a traffic crash. According to NYPD data, 60 percent of these fatal crashes are caused by speeding, failure to yield, and a small number of other traffic violations. Yet the NYPD does not prioritize the enforcement of these violations – known from their own data to be most deadly – choosing instead to focus on violations that do not cause widespread crashes, injuries or fatalities.

The next mayor must close the enforcement gap by increasing traffic enforcement to target the greatest threats to safety on New York’s roads. Then, the NYPD will demonstrably realize its goal of reducing crashes, injuries and deaths in city traffic.


FOR THE “SAFEST BIG CITY IN THE US,” NEW YORK CITY’S STREETS REMAIN REMARKABLY DANGEROUS. Despite a growing swath of streets designed to slow speeding drivers, and even amid advances in emergency medical care, the number of New Yorkers killed and injured by unenforced traffic violations remains high. In New York City, during 2011:

  • One person was killed in a car crash every 33 hours.
  • Every eight minutes, a New Yorker suffered a traffic-related injury.
  • Every three hours a traffic-related injury resulted in dismemberment, disfigurement or permanent disability.

Beyond the individuals who are killed or survive with terrible injuries, the toll of unenforced traffic violations on New York City as a whole is vast, and affects every aspect of civic life, from the economy to communities’ sense of empowerment and self-determination. In New York City:

  • From 2001 to 2012, more residents were killed in traffic than were murdered by guns.
  • One third of residents reported that someone they know has been seriously injured or killed in a traffic crash, or that they themselves have been seriously injured in a traffic crash.
  • Traffic crashes cost residents upwards of four billion dollars a year, in government services, lost productivity, and pain and suffering.

Most tragically, the toll of dangerous traffic paints a target on New York City’s most vulnerable citizens. Children and seniors suffer the brunt of death and injury as a result of unenforced traffic violations. In New York City:

  • Traffic fatalities are the leading cause of injury-related death for children, and after falls, the most common injury-related death for seniors.
  • Only 12 percent of City residents are over 65 years old, yet 36 percent of pedestrians killed in traffic collisions are senior citizens. (After falls, this is the most common cause of injury-related death for city seniors.)


THERE IS A DIRECT CORRELATION BETWEEN DRIVERS WHO VIOLATE TRAFFIC LAWS AND DRIVERS WHO KILL NEW YORKERS. Speeding and the failure to yield the right of way are the most common enforceable causes of deadly crashes.

At the scene of every traffic crash in New York City, an NYPD officer records the incident in a MV-104 report, administered by the Department of Motor Vehicles, which details the contributing factors of the crash. According to the aggregated MV-104 reports of NYPD officers, in 2011:

  • 60 percent of fatal traffic crashes are caused by a driver who committed one or more enforceable traffic violations.
  • Half of the fatal crashes that involved an enforceable traffic violation involved speeding or failure to yield to a pedestrian.

Because traffic deaths are predominantly caused by enforceable violations, traffic deaths are preventable. People make decisions to violate traffic laws, and then they kill people. Increasing NYPD enforcement is one of the strongest tools to prevent people from breaking traffic laws.

 NYPD Enforcement of Speeding vs. Tinted Window Violations

Download full version (PDF): The Enforcement Gap

About Transportation Alternatives
“Transportation Alternatives is New York City’s leading transportation advocacy organization, with a citywide network of 100,000 active supporters committed to reclaiming New York City’s streets for people by ensuring that every New Yorker has safe space to walk and bike and access to public transportation. Every day, all over the city, we’re working to make New York City’s neighborhoods safer and restore a vibrant culture of street life.”


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