Winter 2001, p.16

The Case for Photo Radar in NYC

Transportation Alternatives is beginning a campaign to bring photo radar speed enforcement to NYC. Speeding is rampant on NYC streets. 25% of motorists on Queens Blvd. exceed 40mph, ten miles over the posted speed limit. Even on Midtown Avenues it is easy to find cars going as fast as 45mph.

Many motorists, including legislators and cops, see speeding as a victimless crime -- especially once they get behind the wheel. They are wrong. Speeding is extremely dangerous and anti-social behavior. It is implicated in the deaths and injuries of hundreds of vulnerable area cyclists and pedestrians. At 40 mph, motorists kill 70% of the cyclists and pedestrians they strike -- 100% suffer brain injury or other permanently incapacitating problems. At 30 mph, the NYC speed limit, 40% are killed, and at 25 mph, the death toll is 25%.

Enter photo radar. Photo radar is a cost effective and fair law enforcement tool that stops speeding and save lives. It has been used in Europe for over 30 years, and has been successfully employed by cities around the US, including Washington, DC and Portland, Oregon. Photo radar uses the same technology as NYC's successful red light camera program, but targets speeding rather than red light running. Speeders automatically trigger a roadside camera mounted on a pole, and are photographed. The photo contains a rear view of the vehicle and its license plate, with the date, time, speed and location noted. The motorist is not photographed. A citation is then mailed to the vehicle owner. As with NYC's red light camera program, no points are assigned to the driver's license.

Photo radar enforcement significantly reduces the number and severity of crashes and traffic deaths. It is especially effective at decreasing the number of speeders driving more than 15 mph over the speed limit. Police forces have embraced photo radar because it increases traffic enforcement, while freeing police for other duties. It also reduces the number of high-speed chases and hazardous situations for officers. City governments applaud the cameras because after an initial investment, photo radar generally pays for itself. This puts the cost of speeding enforcement on violators rather than taxpayers. And the public supports photo radar as a means of reducing speeds and crashes. A nationwide telephone survey conducted in 1995 found that 57% of Americans favor using cameras to enforce speed limit laws. Given the pedestrian majority in NYC, this support is probably far higher here.

The use of photo radar in NYC will involve new laws by the City Council and State Legislature. Both of these bodies have opposed photo radar in the past, although their reasoning has been vague and unsubstantiated. The police department will also have to aggressively support automated photo radar enforcement. Our goal is to have 200 photo radar cameras placed around the city, blanketing notorious speedways such as Queens Boulevard, the Grand Concourse, and Flatbush Avenue.

Read the latest news on this subject.

Speed is a factor in 31% of all fatal crashes, killing an average of 1,000 Americans every month.

Each year, more than 15,000 people die in speed-related crashes, and 80,000 people are seriously injured.

Speed related crashes cost society more than $29 billion each year, with health care costs alone totaling more than $4 billion per year.

Write Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and let him know that you want photo radar for NYC.

Police Commissioner
Bernard Kerik
1 Police Plaza Rm. 1400
New York, NY 10038

Photo Radar
Success Stories

According to the British Medical Journal, over the course of two years, the number of deaths in a test corridor in London reduced threefold, from 68 to 20. The number of serious injuries also fell by over a quarter, from 813 to 596.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that photo radar reduced all crashes involving injuries by 20 percent in Norway.

In Victoria, Australia, after eight years of photo radar enforcement, the number of road deaths dropped from 777 in 1989 to 378 in 1997, a 51% reduction. Collisions were reduced by 22%, and serious injuries by 34%.

British Columbia: Research showed a 7% reduction in crashes and a 20% decline in deaths in the year after British Columbia's photo radar program was started. The percent of speeding vehicles declined from 66% in 1996 to 40% in 1999.