A recent study by street safety advocacy group Transportation Alternatives has uncovered an epidemic of speeding in New York City, finding that 70% of drivers observed were driving faster than the speed limit. “Speeding drivers are a leading cause of death and injury on New York City streets,” the study notes, but because city officials “do not have control over speed limits,” New Yorkers are left woefully unprotected from the raft of dangerous driving. One possible solution to the epidemic is a bill currently under consideration by the New York State Legislature, “Sammy’s Law,” which would give New York City the power to control its own speed limits.
Across the entire city, Transportation Alternatives observed that 70% of drivers exceeded the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour; 14% of drivers exceeded it “by 10 mph or more”; and the fastest of the drivers they observed were driving at 63 mph, a speed at which “it would take a driver nearly one and a half city blocks to stop on dry streets and two and a half city blocks to stop in the rain.” The study produced detailed results by borough, finding the following: In Brooklyn, 35% of drivers exceeded the 25 mph speed limit, with the fastest driving 52 mph; in the Bronx, 52% of drivers exceeded the limit, with the fastest driving at 41 mph; in Manhattan, 30% of drivers exceeded the limit, with the fastest driving 36 mph; in Queens, 73% of drivers exceeded the speed limit, with the fastest driving 47 mph; and in Staten Island, 94% of drivers exceeded the speed limit, with the fastest driving 63 mph. As Transportation Alternatives notes, “More people have been killed in traffic crashes on Staten Island thus far in 2021 than at this point of any year since Vision Zero began.”
A section of the study titled “Speed Matters” details the dangers of speeding, which disproportionately effect pedestrians. “Half of pedestrian fatalities occur at a speed of 30 mph or lower,” according to the study, and “Even low-impact speeds correlate with a significant likelihood of death and severe injury.” When the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety studied “speed limit increases across the country between 1997 and 2017,” it found that an increase of five miles per hour led to a 36,750 increase in traffic fatalities. Furthermore, Transportation Alternatives argues, the risk posed by speeding is “inequitably distributed” in New York City, with “People living in high-poverty neighborhoods, older New Yorkers, people with disabilities, children, cyclists, and pedestrians” suffering from increased vulnerability to injury and death caused by speeding. Pedestrians are 14 times more likely than vehicle occupants to die in a car crash; cyclists are eight times more likely; and pedestrians in “high-poverty neighborhoods” are three times more likely.
The study goes on to argue that “the right” speed limit for cities is 20 miles per hour or less, a proposition supported with evidence from the United Kingdom and certain neighborhoods in New York City. When Edinburgh, Scotland decreased speed limits to 20 mph in certain areas, “the rate of cyclists and pedestrians injured in crashes fell by 25 percent.” When London decreased the limit to 20mph in certain areas, “the rate of injurious traffic crashes fell by 42 percent and the rate of crashes involving fatality or serious injury fell by 53 percent” inside those areas. When New York City reduced the speed limit to 20 mph in its “Neighborhood Slow Zones,” the result was a 14% decrease in crashes resulting in injuries as well as a “31 percent reduction in injuries for drivers and passengers.”