TRANSPORTATION ALTERNATIVES: Testimony: Public Safety Committee of the New York City Council on Res. No. 338 on Deadly Drivers

January 10, 2005

Public Safety Committee of the New York City Council on Res. No. 338 on Deadly Drivers

Good afternoon. Thank you Chairman Vallone for convening today’s hearing. My name is Kit Hodge. I am the Campaign Coordinator for Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s advocates for walking. bicycling and safe streets. We work with community groups throughout New York City on pedestrian safety issues.

Today, I would like to speak in support of Res. 338, which calls upon the State Legislature to adopt more stringent legislation for punishing dangerous and deadly drivers, particularly in relation to drivers who cause death or serious injury due to intoxication or criminal negligence. In particular, I would like to urge you to strengthen your call to action by focusing on the speeding.

Speeding is the Problem
When it comes to urban traffic safety there is one overriding concern: speeding. Speeding motorists have less time to react to avoid collisions, tend not to yield the right-of-way and cause more deaths and injuries. There is a direct relationship between a motorist’s speed and the odds that the driver will kill pedestrians or bicyclists he or she strikes.

Motor Vehicle Speed and Chance of Pedestrian Death

20 mph 5%
30 mph 45%
40 mph 85%

Federal Highway Administration research suggests that two-thirds of traffic deaths in New York City involve speeding. To put this in context, fewer than 9% of traffic deaths are caused by drunk driving. It should be noted that anti-speeding efforts are very much where anti-drunk driving efforts were a few decades ago. Speeding is often viewed as a victimless crime, almost a driver’s right, rather than the extremely dangerous and anti-social behavior it is, especially on city streets.

Despite the stereotype of the gridlocked city, speeding is rampant here. In 2002, Transportation Alternatives conducted speed counts with a police caliber radar gun. Using standard speed sampling methods, Transportation Alternatives found the average speed on Upper Broadway in Manhattan during daylight hours to be 37 mph. Similarly, we regularly recorded speeds over 50 mph and an average speed of 39 mph on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. These results are supported by numerous City Department of Transportation speed studies, including a 1999 study on Queens Boulevard that found that 25% of motorists exceeded 40 mph, which is 10 mph over the citywide 30 mph speed limit.

One reason for this rampant speeding is that the police department finds it very difficult to enforce speed limits in this crowded city. As a result, only 2% of moving violations that the New York City police issue are for speeding. One way to solve this enforcement problem is by redesigning streets so that the street itself helps enforce the speed limit. The City can reduce speeds by redesigning streets using traffic calming measures like speed humps, median strips, raised intersections and re-timing traffic lights. The Department of Transportation is doing some of these things, but it will take much more to redesign New York City streets.

The DOT’s efforts will be greatly strengthened by legislation that sends a strong message to the public that speeding and other reckless driving is not a victimless crime. Drivers must know that there are consequences to their dangerous behavior.

Say Yes to Justice for Killer Drivers
In 2004, the NY Daily News found that, between 2000 and 2002, motorists killed 580 New York City pedestrians, but only 80 motorists were charged with a crime. Of those 80 motorists charged, only a handful served jail time. In response to the News’ report, Governor Pataki suggested a package of legislation intended to hold drivers who kill and injure responsible for their actions. We strongly endorse the intent of his legislation, especially the need to eliminate the “rule of two,” increase penalties for drivers who kill or injure while driving with a suspended license and keep drivers with multiple suspensions off the streets.

We urge this committee to call upon the State Legislature to work with the State District Attorney’s Association and expert prosecutors like Maureen Maureen McCormick and the Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice to carefully craft legislation to end the flagrant injustice that allows dangerous motorists to kill and drive away free to kill again.

Please pass Res. 338 and actively campaign for State legislation that will end the “rule of two” and keep dangerous drivers off the streets.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.