2020 was the deadliest year for traffic crashes in New York City since Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced his Vision Zero plan in 2014, according to a recent report by the New York Times. There were at least 243 deaths in traffic crashes in the city last year, despite a downturn in actual traffic during the Covid-19 pandemic. As the Times report observes, this spike was at odds with historical trends, in which “Economic downturns and reduced congestion typically lead to fewer fatal crashes.”
During the pandemic, however, there was an increase in reckless driving, as motorists went over the speed limit on sparse turnpikes, drag-raced, and rode motorcycles. As such, there was a stark increase in driver, passenger, and motorcyclist deaths over the last year, from 68 in 2019 to 120 in 2020. Pedestrian fatalities fell, according to the Times, while bicyclist fatalities remained steady.
The Vision Zero program, implemented by Mayor de Blasio in 2014, seeks to reduce traffic deaths to zero by 2024. The Times suggests that keeping up with this goal will be “a challenge for the coming months, when traffic patterns are unlikely to return to normal.” In an interview with the Times, New York City acting transportation commissioner Margaret Forgione said, “We always knew that Vision Zero would not be linear, we would have some years when fatalities rose and we would have some better years… But this year threw everything into disarray.”
As the Times explains, New York City was not alone in seeing a rise in traffic crash fatalities despite an overall decrease in traffic. Data gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that from April to June 2020, traffic crash fatalities increased “to around 30 percent higher than the first three months of the year,” largely as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. While older, more careful drivers stayed, home, “younger drivers — who are more reckless,” poured into the streets. At the same time, “increased alcohol and drug use to cope with pandemic-related stress factored into many crashes,” according to the NHTSA.
Speeding increased over the early months of the pandemic, with “tickets for speeding over 100 miles per hour [increasing] 87 percent in California” during the first month of its lockdown; meanwhile, traffic cameras in New York City “issued nearly twice as many speeding tickets daily, and rush-hour traffic speeds in Brooklyn and Queens shot up more than 80 percent.”
More information on traffic fatalities in New York City during the Covid-19 pandemic is available via the New York Times.