Last week, as Mayor Eric Adams jetted off to Los Angeles, six people here were killed by car and truck drivers. A seventh, a mom hit in Queens on Mother’s Day in front of her daughter, is fighting for her life. The surge in traffic deaths is yet another sign of New York’s descent into disorder — and Adams’ new push to “educate” drivers not to run people over won’t work. New York knows who drives badly. It’s time to go after them before they kill people, not after.
There’s no doubt he needs to do something. As Transportation Alternatives notes, 75 people have died this year on New York’s streets — up 12% from this time last year. Last year was not so great, either, with 273 deaths, up from a near-record low of 220 in the pre-COVID year of 2019.
Just as with the 53% increase in murders, this 24% increase in the traffic-death total between 2019 and 2021 is yet another sign of New York’s new tolerance of anti-social behavior.
Drivers are far more menacing than they were in 2019 — running fresh red lights in packs and screeching around corners toward pedestrians. Not all drivers are like this or even most. But a small percentage increase is enough to harm New York’s quality of life.
As Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez said last week, “most of those [serious] crashes that happen” — 70% — “involve drivers that have suspended licenses, [are] drunk or speeding.”
Fortuitously, we know exactly who the speeders are or at least what vehicles they own: the vehicles whose plates rack up multiple speeding violations via New York’s school-zone camera network.
Over and over, people responsible for deadly crashes are speed-camera demons.
As with any bad behavior, absent a real deterrent, reckless drivers repeat and escalate.
For most people, the existent deterrent works. For a vehicle to get more than two speeding tickets is highly unusual. In 2020, of the nearly one million license plates hit with a city camera speeding ticket, 82% got three or fewer. Most people learn quickly.
It’s the other 18% — people who racked up four or more tickets in a year; in 2% of ticketed vehicles, 10 or more violations — who are persistent dangers.
Albany controls New York City’s use of speed cameras, including restricting them to school zones and forcing the city to turn them off after 10 p.m. and on weekends, when most deadly crashes occur. Vehicles don’t get tickets unless they’re going 10 miles above the posted limit, a generous cushion.
A far worthier Adams initiative, compared with “educating” everyone, is his attempt to persuade Albany to give the city control over its speed-camera network, including coverage overnight, when emptier roads tempt drag racers and other daredevils.
The state also must let the city use the data it collects to punish persistent bad drivers. Right now, the fine for a speed-camera violation is $50, whether it’s the first violation or the 10th.
The state should escalate these fines and permanently revoke vehicle registrations for the worst actors. Vehicles driven by repeat speeders shouldn’t be on the road under the same owner’s control — period.
In the past, Republicans in Albany have opposed speed-camera expansion. Now, though, with Democrats in charge of the Legislature and the governorship, that obstacle is gone.
Safe-streets advocates, for their part, have their own blind spots: They prefer camera enforcement exclusively to traffic stops done by police officers because they don’t like police.
But fake license plates to evade cameras are more and more common in newly lawless New York — and police must catch drunk drivers and drivers without licenses by stopping them for their erratic behavior behind the wheel.
Police can’t rely on automation, either, when it comes to people driving stolen vehicles — like the person who allegedly hit and critically injured the nurse Sunday in Queens, an increasingly common incident since 2020.
Adams won’t get anything at all from Albany, though, unless he focuses. Confronted with yet another public-safety crisis, announcing a goal and then leaving town after taking a half-measure isn’t going to save lives on the roads.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.