Drivers Responsible for Growing NYC Pedestrian, Cyclist Death Toll

Busy crosswalk in NY

Despite NYC’s “Vision Zero” program, launched five years ago with a goal to eliminate all fatalities on City roads, traffic deaths remain high – especially for bicyclists and pedestrians.

The usual culprit? Careless drivers.

In a recently published article, New York Times staff combing through troves of city data revealed some sobering findings about the state of safety and Vision Zero on New York City streets: although the high-profile safety plan had shown promising signs of promoting safety on the road, the death toll rose significantly last year.

  • At least 221 people died in traffic crashes in 2019;
  • 124 pedestrians were killed in NYC traffic accidents
  • 28 cyclists died in bicycle accidents (the highest in 20+ years)

To its credit, the City has already vowed to build over 200 miles of protected bike lines for cyclists. Still, experts say, exploring underlying causes behind the fatalities can help direct additional efforts toward sustainable, long-term solutions.

Drivers Usually at Fault for Fatal Wrecks

According to the Times, much of the problem behind the growing number of fatalities has to do with driver negligence. In fact, NYC police cited errors by pedestrians or bicyclists in less than 5% of all fatal crashes in 2019 (2 of which involved collisions between riders and pedestrians only).

  • Distracted driving and inattention was the leading cause of pedestrian and cyclist death, accounting for 33 fatalities.
  • Failures to yield caused 26 pedestrian / cyclist deaths.
  • Other contributing factors in fatal pedestrian / cyclist accidents included: disregarding traffic signs, unsafe speeds, drunk driving, and backing up / out unsafely.

According to NYC Police crash data and the Times, bicyclists faced the greatest risks of fatal crashes when riding in Brooklyn, which saw 17 of the 28 cyclist deaths in 2019, or roughly 60%. Many of the City’s bicyclist and pedestrian accidents also occurred in neighborhoods known for dangerous corridors or poor cycling infrastructure, including Chelsea and Harlem in Manhattan, and Sunset Part and Williamsburg / Greenpoint in Brooklyn. Gentrification of industrial areas like Third Avenue in Brooklyn, which saw several fatal wrecks last year, has created a deadly mix of trucks and residents who bike or walk to work, prompting transportation officials to reduce posted speed limits in some areas, and push for further protections.

The data also shows that while traffic deaths were dropping prior to a recent spike, traffic injuries have increased by about 20% since de Blasio took office. The roughly 60,000 injuries caused by traffic crashes in 2019 was about 10,000 more than in 2014. Larger vehicles were also more likely to be linked to fatal wrecks; nearly 40% involved an SUV or station wagon, and another 40% involved various commercial trucks, including dump trucks and box trucks.

Accountability Behind the Wheel

In addition to new bike lanes, the City has other changes in the works, including a redesign of dangerous streets and intersections, increased enforcement, and expansion of the City’s speed camera program. Last month, Mayor de Blasio also signed legislation to crack down on reckless drivers by allowing the City to seize vehicles when owners accumulate too many speeding or red-light tickets.

Some of the additional measures passed and proposed by NYC lawmakers have split support; while many agree they want to keep local roads free from fatal wrecks, not everyone wants to feel as though they can be “targeted” whenever they get behind the wheel.

According to advocates, however, a sense of heightened accountability is crucial to promoting a meaningful reduction in crashes, as many drivers who kill victims in preventable accidents (when they are not intoxicated and do not flee the scene) usually don’t face serious consequences, even though they may behave in ways that increase the likelihood of collisions. Of the 28 fatal bicycle accidents last year, for example, only 4 drivers were arrested. Eight other motorists were cited for traffic violations.

Legal Support For Victims and Families

While City officials work to implement safety changes and investigate new solutions, accidents, injuries, and deaths on local roadways will continue. As a law firm that’s represented victims and families across NYC in a range of motor vehicle accident cases for nearly four decades, The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., has seen the evolution of City streets and policies, and the factors that so often contribute to serious wrecks. Our award-winning attorneys leverage this insight to help clients pursue the justice and compensation they deserve.

If you wish to discuss a potential accident case involving serious injuries or wrongful death, The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C., is here to help. Contact us 24/7 to request a free case evaluation.

For over 40 years, David H. Perecman has distinguished himself as one of the leading personal injury lawyers in New York City, championing all types of personal injury cases including construction accidents, premises accidents, automobile accidents, and medical malpractice, along with employment discrimination, false arrest, and civil rights cases.