Bucking The Trend: Traffic Fatalities Rise in New York City

September 27, 2012

Traffic fatalities have been on the decline for the past several years, thanks in large part to enhanced safety gear on vehicles and stricter enforcement of drunk-driving laws.

In fact, 2010 saw the lowest fatality rate on record in the U.S., and when the Department of Transportation finishes compiling stats for 2011, the rate could slip even farther.

However, at least one city in America is bucking this downward trend: New York. 

According to the New York Times, traffic fatalities shot up 23% during the 2012 fiscal year, which ran from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012:

  • In fiscal year 2011, 78 motorists and passengers were killed in New York City. In 2012, that number jumped to 115. (Roughly 54% of those deaths were caused by motorists driving drunk, speeding, or running red lights.)
  • The situation is worse for pedestrians and cyclists. In fiscal year 2011, 158 of them died in crashes on the streets of New York, but in 2012, the number climbed to 178.
  • All told, there were 291 traffic fatalities in New York City during the 2012 fiscal year, up from 236 the year before. That's the first time that the city has seen an increase in traffic-related deaths since 2007.

Behind the numbers

These stats come as a bit of a surprise, and few in the Bloomberg administration have suggested any rationale for the increase -- particularly where motorist and passenger deaths are concerned.

City officials are slightly more certain about the problem of pedestrian and cyclist deaths, with many blaming cell phone users and the phenomenon of "distracted walking". Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said that she herself had prevented several distracted texters from walking into traffic. 

To address that problem, the city plans to stencil the word "LOOK!" at the edge of 100 dangerous intersections in the hopes of grabbing cell phone users' attention as they walk, heads-down, toward rushing traffic. The city is also asking taxi drivers to post warnings to passengers, reminding them to pay attention when opening the car door to avoid hitting cyclists.

But buried in all this data is the most disturbing news of all: after five years of solid declines, preliminary data suggests a 13.5% increase in traffic fatalities across the U.S. in the first quarter of 2012.

If that's the case, New Yorkers could be living up to their reputation as America's trend-setters -- though this time around, the trend is a lot grimmer than usual.

Have you noticed an uptick in traffic accidents where you live? Is there any way to stop the problem of distracted walking? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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