For a long time, data on New York City traffic accidents were available only through cumbersome and difficult-to-analyze police department PDFs and error-ridden spreadsheets. But on May 7, 2014, the city’s OpenData portal began publishing clean collision data on a daily basis, including geographical coordinates for the majority of incidents.1
We thought we would use the traffic accident data that have accumulated over the last 12 months, which include more than 200,000 collisions across the five boroughs, to reveal where crashes happen, who they involve, what are their causes, and – perhaps – whether Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan is on track to achieving its ambitious goal of eliminating all traffic deaths in the Big Apple by 2024.
Records of motor collisions kept by the NYPD have several key pieces of information attached to them, including what causes crashes, what types of vehicles are involved (motorcycles, buses, taxis, etc.), how many people are hurt or killed (and whether they are motorists, passengers, pedestrians, or cyclists), and where they happen. The locations of collisions are geocoded to the nearest intersection, unless they occur on a highway or bridge or in a tunnel, in which case they are listed by name and not geocoded with longitude and latitude.
We’ve used all the above metrics to analyze traffic accidents over the last year, beginning with an overview of all collisions across the five boroughs.
There were 223,141 traffic collisions in New York City between March 2014 and April 2015, almost a quarter of which resulted in an injury or death. The red and yellow hot spots on the heat map above seem to indicate that there were more collisions in Manhattan than any of the other four boroughs, but really they were just more densely concentrated than elsewhere in the city. In fact, Queens had marginally more than the other boroughs, accounting for 29.5% of the total number.
The percentage of collisions resulting in at least one injury ranged from 23.6% to 29.2% across four of the boroughs but was considerably lower in Manhattan, at 16.9%. Can you guess why this might be? We’ll share our thoughts a little later. First, let’s see how collisions were distributed across the last year or so.
All five boroughs saw an increase in traffic collisions from February 2015 to March 2015, with Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan showing the most obvious upward deviations during this period on the graph to the left.
Manhattan’s line changes dramatically due to the 3,928 collisions that happened in December 2014, followed by 3,210 in January 2015 (its lowest number in the entire period covered).
Similarly, Queens and Brooklyn both experienced significant drops in collision totals between March and April 2015 (5,289 to 4,694, and 5,171 to 4678 respectively).
To give a better sense of how traffic accidents in New York City are distributed across time and geographical space, let’s focus on a recent one-week period, in which more than 4,000 collisions occurred and almost a thousand people were hurt. The dots, each of which represents a single collision at the nearest intersection to where it took place, accumulate as the week progresses.
Certain parts of the city have higher average traffic levels than others, which naturally means they have more motor collisions. But the time of day also makes a difference, as the following graph shows. It groups the 200,000+ traffic accidents that happened between May 10, 2014 and May 10, 2015 by the nearest hour of the day to which they occurred.
The incidence of traffic collisions rises sharply from 7 to 9 a.m., when hundreds of thousands of people are commuting into and around the city to get to work and then levels off until 3 p.m., when it begins to rise to its highest level. Statistics from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles from 2012 echo this finding: Traffic accidents are most likely to occur between 3 and 6 p.m.2
So far, we’ve only looked at traffic collision totals at borough-level. Let’s zoom in on another level to see how they are distributed by police precinct.
The 109th Precinct in Queens, which includes the neighborhoods of Downtown Flushing, East Flushing, Queensboro Hill, College Point, Malba, Whitestone, Beechhurst, and Bay Terrace, had the most traffic collisions of any precinct in New York City in April 2015, which makes sense given its size. What’s more interesting is how many of those collisions resulted in injuries: 8.6 per 100. This is less than half the rate of the 105th Precinct (also in Queens), which had the second highest number of accidents but 18.1 injuries per 100 collisions. The average across New York City in the same month was 11.6. Let’s compare all precincts by this same measure to see if the 105th Precinct was the highest in the city.
The 105th Precinct actually ranked fourth in April 2015 for injuries per 100 traffic accidents. With 19.8, the 46th Precinct, which is in the central part of West Bronx, had the highest rate. None of the precincts in the top 10 for injuries per 100 collisions were in Manhattan. The map above groups all injuries together, regardless of who suffered them. But how might it change if we look at pedestrians and cyclists separately?
When we rank New York City precincts by injuries to pedestrians per 100 collisions, Manhattan enters the picture. The 13th Precinct, tied for fourth place, is in lower Midtown, and the 6th Precinct, which is Greenwich Village and the West Village, is in eighth. But the 66th Precinct, in Borough Park, Brooklyn, ranks highest with 10.2. In fact, in April 2015 it had more than double the rate of pedestrian injuries per 100 collisions than the NYC average of 4.4.
The area is known to be particularly hazardous to people on foot: In 2012, 245 citations were issued in the 66th Precinct to drivers who failed to yield to a pedestrian.3
The 66th Precinct ranked second highest for cyclist injuries per 100 collisions, but the 88th Precinct (the Clinton Hill/Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn) – which didn’t appear in the top 10 for all persons injured or pedestrians injured – ranked highest, at 7.7 per 100 collisions. That was four times higher than the NYC precinct average.
In March 2015, the NYPD wrote 14 cycling summons in the 88th Precinct, compared to just two in the same period the year before. The precinct’s commanding officer said that many of accidents involving cyclists were due to them running red lights.4
Having moved from borough- to precinct-level, we’ll now zoom in as close as we can with the available data for individual intersections and look at highways, bridges, and tunnels. We will also compare collision locations to average daily traffic volumes, as this is a really important part of the story, especially in New York City, where roadways differ a lot in traffic volume between boroughs.
In April 2015, there were 4,024 traffic accidents in Manhattan, involving 7,819 people. 7.6% of those people were injured, and one motorist was killed. The intersections with the most collisions were in Midtown, on high-traffic streets that are used by 25,000 to 75,000 vehicles per day.
The Belt Parkway was the most dangerous roadway in Brooklyn in April 2015, with 155 collisions, in which 57 people were injured and one motorist was killed. Flatbush Avenue, which is one of Brooklyn’s major traffic arteries, had 166 collisions, with 38 people injured – six of whom were pedestrians.
Interstate 495, also known as the Long Island Expressway, had the most collisions in Queens in April 2015 – 54 people were injured in 230 accidents, 30 of whom were motorists, 23 passengers, and one a pedestrian.
In total, 659 people were injured in motor collisions in April 2015 in the Bronx (about one an hour). Of these, 491 were injured on streets and 168 on highways or bridges or in tunnels, with the Major Deegan Expressway seeing the most (108).
Staten Island had considerably fewer collisions in April 2015 than the other four boroughs, with 102 out of 903 in total occurring on highways or bridges or in tunnels. Across all roadways, 149 of the accidents resulted in injuries and one motorist was killed.
We now know where collisions in NYC happen most, but how do rates differ by vehicle type and cause of crash?
Just over a quarter of the traffic accidents that happened in New York City between May 10, 2014 and May 10, 2015 were caused by the driver of the vehicle taking his or her attention off the road. This aligns with broader existing figures: According to a 2009 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), one out of every five crashes across the nation that resulted in an injury was caused by distracted driving, and it was the cause of 16% of all fatal accidents.5 Interestingly, in New York City, drivers distracting themselves didn’t cause as many injuries as drivers distracted by their passengers. The NYPD’s figures show that 18.5% of accidents caused by driver distraction resulted in at least one injury, compared to 67.3% of accidents caused by passenger distraction. This fits with research conducted by the NHTSA, which showed that passenger distraction was the most common cause in a sample of 7,000 car accidents.6
The likelihood of a traffic accident causing an injury or death differs depending on several factors, one of which is the vehicles involved.
The most vulnerable type of vehicle in an NYC traffic accident is the bicycle – 77.5% of collisions involving bikes resulted in an injury. Scooters and motorcycles followed in second and third place. Taxi collisions, in fifth place, were slightly more likely to involve injuries than regular passenger vehicles. This could be because taxi drivers in New York frequently don’t wear seat belts nor are they legally obliged to; many taxi passengers forego the use of seat belts too. This poses an interesting question: How do taxi collisions differ across the city, and do the five boroughs have wildly different rates of taxi accident injuries?
When you think of a yellow taxicab, you think of New York but more specifically Manhattan. According to the 2014 Taxicab Fact Book compiled by the Taxi and Limousine Commission, 90.5% of all yellow taxi pick-ups occur in Manhattan, followed by the airports (3.5%) and Brooklyn (3.1%).7 As such, the majority of collisions involving taxis happen in Manhattan too but not 90.5% – in fact, it’s 75.1%. Queens, which only accounts for 1.5% of taxi pick-ups, had 10.5% of taxi collisions between April 2014 and April 2015.
Accidents involving taxis that resulted in injuries showed some interesting differences between boroughs as well. In the Bronx, 30.5% involved injuries, compared to only 17.1% in Manhattan. This leads us back to a question we posed near the beginning of this article: Why might the percentage of collisions resulting in at least one injury be considerably lower in Manhattan than the other four boroughs? The answer is probably speed – or rather a lack of it. According to GPS data, the average speed of a New York City taxicab in 2012 was 10.2 miles per hour.8 This doesn’t make injuries from collisions impossible, of course (drivers can still fail to yield to a pedestrian), but it might explain why. If you’re unlucky enough to get caught in a collision in Manhattan, you’re less likely to get hurt than if you were in the Bronx, Brooklyn, or Queens.
Sources and References
Main data sources: NYC OpenData & NYPD
3. http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/06/25/ngozi-agbim-73-killed-by-truck-driver-at-crash-prone-brooklyn-intersection/ 4. http://gothamist.com/2015/04/27/cyclist_crackdown_brooklyn.php