Ending New York City’s lethal speeding epidemic

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Ending New York City’s lethal speeding epidemic

Ending New York City’s lethal speeding epidemic
May 18, 2016

We have an epidemic on our streets – someone is killed every 38 hours and hundreds are injured in New York City every day. If this were a viral epidemic and we had a known vaccine, we certainly would not let petty politics get in the way of inoculating every New Yorker. But it’s not a virus. The cause of all these lost lives is speeding, and there is a critical life-saving solution available that we are not using.

Speeding kills more people than drunk driving and cell phone use at the wheel combined. It’s a silent killer and is especially lethal for seniors and children.

Sadly, I know that fact all too well. Two and a half years ago, I kissed my son Sammy goodbye. He was nearly 13 years old and going to soccer practice while I was at my daughter’s parent-teacher meeting. Like most New York City tweens, he had already been walking to and from school and around our neighborhood for over four years. I never imagined that it would be the last time Sammy would say I love you and that I would never see him alive again.

A year and a half later, a five-year-old boy was struck in the exact same location where Sammy was hit and killed. And while the impact tossed the boy a car’s length, he suffered only minor injuries. What made the difference? The driver who hit the five-year-old was obeying the newly lowered 25-mile-per-hour speed limit.

We know that when drivers are not speeding, they have more time to react when the unexpected happens, and they don’t need as much distance to come to a stop. Moreover, even if a crash can’t be avoided, it’s much less likely to be lethal. That’s why New York City lowered its default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

We know what saves lives. Instead, for some reason, we accept the scourge of deadly speeding with a shrug, as if it were as inevitable as bad weather. “Everyone does it,” we tell ourselves. We are a city in a hurry.

Some people see no reason to act because they consider these crashes to be “accidents.” But traffic fatalities and injuries are preventable.

It used to be socially acceptable to throw back a few drinks and then get behind the wheel. But thanks to decades of tireless advocacy by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, we have learned that this is not acceptable behavior, and law enforcement now reflects that. But we have not seen that kind of culture change when it comes to speeding.

Predictable, consistent enforcement has been proven to change driver behavior. But right now, New Yorkers can typically speed 12,000 times before getting a ticket.

Given that police resources are limited, we need more speed safety cameras to deter this reckless behavior. That’s why Families for Safe Streets, the group I helped found with other New Yorkers who have lost loved ones or were injured in traffic crashes, is working to get more of these lifesaving devices to protect school zones around the city.

Right now, New York City has permission from Albany to deploy 140 cameras to issue $50 tickets to drivers who go more than 10 mph above the speed limit near a school. But that still leaves 93 percent of the city’s 2,000­-plus schools unprotected. To make matters worse, the cameras are only allowed to be on during school hours, even though children use playgrounds and ballfields during evenings and on weekends, when many serious crashes take place.

To address these problems, state Assemblywoman Deborah Glick has introduced legislation that would lift these restrictions. Last Tuesday, members of Families for Safe Streets joined three busloads New Yorkers and went to Albany to demand that the city be permitted to install speed safety cameras at every school and use them 24-hours-a-day. Hundreds of organizations, including schools and hospitals, stood with us in support of Assembly Bill 9861.

The safety cameras we already have are starting to get results: speeding is down 60 percent in the areas where they’ve been installed. We have a tool that is already saving lives. Now it’s time for Albany lawmakers to lift the restrictions on that lifesaving tool and protect all of New York City’s children.

Amy Cohen is the co-founder of Families for Safe Streets, an advocacy group demanding an end to traffic violence.

Amy Cohen
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