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City speed cameras help police catch speeders during coronavirus pandemic

A speed camera clocks vehicles traveling south on

A speed camera clocks vehicles traveling south on Utopia Parkway near 56th Avenue toward Francis Lewis High School in Queens in September 2014.  Credit: Charles Eckert

New York City officials grappling with speeders have an effective weapon in their fight with lead-footed drivers: Speed cameras.

Traffic in New York City may have all but disappeared in the coronavirus pandemic and serious car crashes are way down. But speeders are taking advantage of empty streets.

In just one day in April, the city's 700 speed cameras caught nearly 30,000 drivers out of 2.3 million going 10 miles or more above the speed limit on streets near schools and in neighborhoods, police officials said.

Evidence — both anecdotal and scientific — indicate that speeding has increased on streets in all five boroughs as the NYPD, saddled with many tasks in the health emergency, appears to have struggled to keep up with road violators.

“There are some irresponsible drivers who are using this time to speed — and it is reckless,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson said last week.

“The stupidity of some drivers astonishes me,” former city traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz, now a traffic consultant and author, said of the speeding. “They are getting to their destination faster than ever before.”

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In an analysis of city speed camera activity in the weeks since March 9, Schwartz found that violations increased from more than 62,000 over an earlier five-day period to almost 90,000 from March 30 to April 4. City officials didn’t return a request for comment.

At a time when hospital emergency rooms are loaded with coronavirus cases, reckless speeders are adding to the overtaxed medical facilities' burden with crash victims like cyclists and pedestrians, said Johnson.

Data compiled by various transportation analytics companies project that in New York City, as well as in Nassau and Suffolk counties, mileage driven by cars has dropped anywhere from 74% to 93% in the weeks after the stay-at-home measures were decreed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Speedlight Data, based in San Francisco, noted that similar mileage reductions have been the case all over the country where pandemic measures are in place, said Martin Morzynski. company vice president of marketing.

What might have been longer commutes by car are now reduced to short trips to the supermarket or destinations closer to home, Morzynski explained.

“Collisions with injuries have declined more than 72 percent since March 20, when the statewide stay-at-home rules went into effect, leading to declining road use,” said NYPD Deputy Chief Michael Pilecki, of the department’s transportation bureau. “While this is welcome news during this unprecedented coronavirus crisis, the NYPD full recognizes that vehicle speed has increased.”

Last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio implored drivers to “slow down."

"It doesn’t matter if there’s not a lot of cars on the road,” de Blasio said.

With thousands of officers already stretched thin by the pandemic, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea has redeployed hundreds of officers to speed camera hot spots, police officials said.

With Matthew Chayes

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