Ray Kelly on Traffic Crime: “I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About”

speeding_graph.jpgState DMV data show that crashes caused by speeding are up, while enforcement of speeding violations is down. Graphic: Transportation Alternatives.

Transportation Alternatives' recent report, Executive Order [PDF], contains so much information about the state of traffic enforcement in New York, it's impossible to summarize in one post. So in the weeks ahead, Streetsblog will be taking a closer look at what's in the report and what the implications are for law enforcement.

We'll begin by noting that, so far, Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly don't appear concerned by the systemic lack of enforcement documented in Executive Order. NY1 reported their reactions:

"We have a safety record in the city that is the envy of other big cities," said Bloomberg.

"I don't know what they're talking about. In 2007 and 2008 we issued 1.2 million moving violation summonses. As the mayor said, we're at the lowest number of vehicle fatalities," said Kelly.

Has anyone ever heard Ray Kelly brag about the number of arrests for murder, rape, and assault? No. NYPD grades its performance on violent crime by tracking how much the actual crime rates have changed. Anyone with an internet connection can look up the stats for their precinct.

When it comes to deadly driving, Kelly has no data to cite. Rattling off the number of summonses proves nothing. It's like saying, "We arrested a million perps last year, the streets are safer."

It's true that traffic deaths have declined in recent years, but if Bloomberg and Kelly want to save more lives and make New York as safe as possible, they should take a good long look at Executive Order. Their replies indicate that they don't yet grasp, or care to acknowledge, the fundamental problems it identifies.

To start with, no one really knows why traffic deaths are down or whether traffic enforcement has played a role. What we do know is that the most deadly crashes -- those caused by speeding -- are on the rise.

According to state DMV statistics (available here), crashes in Manhattan due to "unsafe speed" rose from 471 in 2005 to 589 in 2007. Which is just one glaring example of why citing the number of summonses issued, as Commissioner Kelly did, fails to address the underlying question of whether traffic enforcement has actually made streets safer. Consider the following numbers from Executive Order -- this is citywide data from 2007:

  • 195,579 summonses were issued for cell phone use
  • Cell phones were the cause of 78 crashes and one death
  • 75,599 summonses were issued for speeding
  • Speeding was the cause of 3,080 crashes and 62 deaths
  • Speeding caused over 39 times as many crashes as cell phone use
  • Less than half the number of summonses issued for cell phones were issued for speeding

So, sure, NYPD is handing out lots of summonses, but not to deter the most dangerous behavior on the streets. For an agency that has built its reputation on metrics and accountability -- think CompStat -- the mismatch between enforcement practice and actual risk is remarkable.