NY traffic deaths rose sharply during the pandemic, comptroller’s report finds

Traffic-related fatalities in New York state rose sharply during the first years of Covid-19 and continued to increase through 2022, according to a report from state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.

Traffic deaths jumped by roughly 25% statewide in the period between 2019 and 2022, according to the report out this week. While there were fewer cars on the road, the report suggests drivers were engaging in riskier behaviors — including driving under the influence or without a seatbelt.

“Stay at home orders implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic reduced motor vehicle travel,” DiNapoli’s report reads. “Despite these declines, the frequency of fatal crashes has increased.”

There were more than 1,100 vehicle deaths in New York state in 2022, which “represents the highest number since 2013 and reverses a decline that had been occurring steadily since 2015,” the report reads.

The report came out in strong support of Sammy’s Law, which Gov. Kathy Hochul signed in May as the culmination of longstanding efforts by street safety advocates for New York City to lower speed limits to 20 miles per hour on some roads.

The city Department of Transportation on Thursday released its proposed list of streets that could get speed reductions, allowing for 10 miles per hour in a narrower set of street redesigns and pledging reduced speeds in 250 locations by the end of 2025.

“Policy makers should consider if allowing other local governments, not just New York City, to be able to make similar adjustments to their minimum speed limits would help reduce the number of traffic fatalities in the State,” the report states.

The upward trajectory of traffic deaths in New York persisted in 2022 even as traffic fatalities started to decline on the national level.

New York City had the state’s lowest fatality rate in 2022 — most likely due to its significant share of the statewide population and relatively low rates of car ownership among the city’s residents, per the report. The highest number of fatalities that year was on Long Island, where nearly 250 people died in vehicle crashes.

During the pandemic, New York lagged in many performance metrics set by the state and regulated at the federal level, DiNapoli said. It has exceeded its own thresholds for motorcyclist fatalities and the deaths of passengers without seatbelts since 2019, according to data through 2022. It has also exceeded its threshold for cyclist deaths since 2018.

Traffic fatality rates in New York still rank among the lowest nationally when adjusted for population.

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