Traffic Fatalities Are on the Rise in New York. Is Distracted Driving to Blame?

City officials think so, and they've launched a low-tech campaign to get people to pay attention.

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NYC DOT

New numbers show traffic fatalities in New York City are on the rise. From July 2011 to June 2012, 291 people died in traffic accidents – a jump from the previous year's total of 236. It's the first time the number has seen a year-over-year increase since 2007, when 310 deaths occurred.

176 cyclists and pedestrians were killed, compared with 158 the previous year, according to the Mayor's Management Report. It's not clear what caused the rise in deaths, but Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has an idea.

"I don’t think that the iPhone has invented an app yet that will ping you when you hit a crosswalk," Ms. Sadik-Khan told The New York Times. "That break-up text can wait."

In 2010, distracted driving contributed to 9,200 traffic injuries and 41 fatalities in New York City, according to the DOT. Sadik-Khan says that drivers – and increasingly pedestrians – are paying too much attention to their phone screens when they should be watching the road.

In an effort to get people's attention, the city has launched a new safety campaign at about 110 intersections throughout the city where the word "LOOK!" is painted in big letters near curbs and inside crosswalks. The Os look like eyes and they're pointed in the direction of oncoming traffic.

But it's not just texting pedestrians causing all these accidents. In response to a recent flurry of cab-bike accidents, the city plans to move its LOOK! campaign into taxis to prevent a few of those all-too-common accidents where bikes crash into quickly opened doors.

Whether phone distractions really are the cause of this increase in road fatalities is difficult to prove. But officials in New York are hoping that the extra signage in the streets will divert more eyes off of screens and on to traffic.

Image credit: NYC DOT

About the Author

  • Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.