Opinion: Only Slower Traffic Reduces Traffic Deaths

A package of bills in the New York legislature seeks to increase licensing and safety requirements for bikes, e-bikes, and scooters. But research shows speeding and impaired driving are still the top killers of pedestrians and cyclists.

June 24, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

A package of bills being proposed in the New York state legislature would, according to Alissa Walker of Curbed, "take the licensing, registration, and safety requirements for the operators of the large and powerful vehicles that are responsible for virtually all traffic deaths and extend those requirements to the operators of the smaller and less powerful vehicles." Yet, as Walker points out, 24 operators of the smaller vehicle "were killed by the operators of large and powerful vehicles last year" in New York–a year that saw the highest number of traffic deaths nationwide since 2007.

Three of the bills proposed by State Senator Simcha Felder "would require all of New York City’s bike and scooter riders to wear a helmet and carry a license and a registration, including a plate that’s prominently displayed on their vehicle." Yet the causes of 2020's record-high number of road deaths, says Walker, are attributable to speeding and impaired driving, compounded by "the streets themselves — the overly wide, lockdown-emptied roads — that encouraged such deadly driving." 

"Despite the obvious concerns about how such laws might be enforced — which will almost certainly mean even more harassment of lower-income New Yorkers who rely on bikes for work — study after study has proven that adding more requirements deters biking and scooting and, in fact, ends up making streets less safe by nudging people into cars instead." Walker argues "the only proven way to prevent drivers from killing people on bikes" is "traffic-calming infrastructure that creates protected paths for everyone not in a car, while forcing everyone in a car to slow down." Eight other bills making their way through the state legislature, collectively known as the Crash Victim Rights & Safety Act, propose "policies that have been widely proven to reduce traffic deaths."

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