New Yorkers Support Automated Traffic Enforcement

New poll shows support for expanding existing speed safety camera program both in and out of school zones — a more fair & effective means of traffic enforcement rather than relying on individual police officers.

In 2013, New York City launched its speed safety camera program in reaction to record-setting traffic violence on city streets and the increasing role of speeding in these preventable deaths. The program has since expanded from 20 to 750 school zones, and has been considered an unmitigated success in accomplishing its goal: saving the lives of children. It has reduced fatality and injury rates by as much as 50 percent, slowed average speeds, and cut overall violations in half, making New York City’s streets safer for all users. By centering schoolchildren, the program has been able to protect the city’s most vulnerable.

In 2020, however, as speeds increased and emptier streets became drag-racing tracks, fatalities soared again. Vulnerable street users, often the essential workers who continue to keep the city running, have been injured or killed at alarming rates. The parallel crisis of discriminatory enforcement by the NYPD has exacerbated the problem: both traffic violence and police violence disproportionately impact Black and Hispanic/Latino New Yorkers.

Now, in the midst of these compounding crises, a new poll finds broad support among New Yorkers for expanding the existing speed safety camera program — a proven way to increase street safety while removing armed law enforcement from traffic enforcement.

Speed cameras are broadly popular inside and outside of school zones

More than three-quarters of voters support scaling up the program by adding more speed safety cameras to school zones, according to the survey of 805 New York City voters commissioned by Transportation Alternatives and conducted by Siena College Research Institute. Support for more school zone cameras was strongest among Hispanic/Latino voters, at more than 93 percent, and voters under age 35, at 85 percent. Even 73 percent of car owners supported the expansion, refuting the often repeated refrain that most drivers oppose new enforcement models.

Right now, speed safety cameras are only able to operate within school zones and during daytime hours. 60 percent of New York voters — including a majority of car owners — support expanding speed safety camera use outside of school zones. Among voters age 65 or above, who are killed by cars at four times the rate of younger New Yorkers, support reaches 69 percent.

New Yorkers support cameras for a wide variety of traffic violations

Possibly reflecting the personal experience most New Yorkers have with traffic violence, the vast majority of voters — 85 percent — support the installation of cameras that would ticket drivers for running a red light. This support remains high among car owners at 84 percent. And most New Yorkers believe that intersections and crosswalks, where pedestrians are most often killed, warrant additional protection: 67 percent of New York voters support installing cameras that would ticket drivers for blocking an intersection or crosswalk. Among households making under $50,000 annually, approval rises to 79 percent.

Many voters also acknowledge the prevalence of double-parking on New York City streets as a significant problem. In a city with 1.5 on-street parking spaces for every registered car, one recent study found an average of three obstructive parked cars per 10-block stretch of bike lane. Most New York voters — 60 percent — support installing cameras that would ticket drivers for blocking a bike lane, with clear majorities in every borough and among car-owning and non-car-owning New Yorkers. Support rises to two-thirds among voters age 65 and up, and is even higher among Hispanic/Latino voters.

Increasing support for automated traffic enforcement

New Yorkers’ support for the cameras has grown in line with the program’s expansion since it launched in 2013. In 2016, 68 percent of car owners and 88 percent of Hispanic/Latino New Yorkers supported the program — in 2020, those numbers reached 73 percent and 93 percent, respectively.

This growing support for automated enforcement indicates a widespread acknowledgement that our streets are still unsafe — almost one in three New Yorkers have been injured in a traffic crash — and that cameras are a critical part of the solution. But our communities of color know additional dangers: Black and brown New Yorkers are also harmed and by racist enforcement of traffic laws by the police.

With growing awareness of the fear, pain, and death caused by racism in policing, the effort to reduce the NYPD’s role in traffic enforcement has gained momentum. Automating enforcement through the increased use of cameras, rather than police officers, is supported by almost 60 percent of New York voters. This support is highest among younger and BIPOC voters, with automatic enforcement favored by 72 percent of New York voters age 18–34; and 65 percent of Black voters and 74 percent of Hispanic/Latino voters.

Automated enforcement is not only more equitable, but is simply more effective. New York City’s school zone speed safety cameras caught one million speeders in 2015, while NYPD officers caught less than 135,000.

New York City’s school zone cameras make up the world’s largest automated speed safety camera system. They are a landmark achievement in the city’s Vision Zero effort, the signature goal of Mayor Bill de Blasio to reach zero traffic fatalities by 2024. But New Yorkers are no longer satisfied with the program’s current scope and limitations. The scale and severity of traffic violence in New York City — where speeding is the leading cause of traffic deaths, killing more people than drunk and distracted drivers combined — is undeniable. Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets are proud to be part of the de Blasio administration’s campaign in Albany to extend the hours of speed safety cameras to nights and weekends. However, we — and a wide array of New York City voters — also believe that more forms of automated enforcement should be implemented to help us fully reach Vision Zero.

Transportation Alternatives is your advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit in New York City. We stand up for #VisionZero & #BikeNYC.