The NYC City Council approved a bill on Tuesday, October 7, 2014, that will reduce the maximum speed on most NYC streets to 25 mph from the current 30 mph. The new limit is set to go into effect on November 7.
The new speed limit applies to all streets where a maximum speed is not otherwise posted. These are referred to as “unposted” zones. While not every driver may have known, the law to date in NYC was “speed limit 30 unless otherwise posted”.
As of November 7, it’s 25 mph.
There are some people who argue that the lower speed limit could significantly cut traffic fatalities. It’s hard to argue against the basic premise that slower driving leads to fewer and less severe accidents. The question is whether people will actually alter their driving speeds. Was anyone really driving 30 mph in the first place? Did drivers even know this was the default, unposted speed limit? Is it possible that in NYC most people just drive as comfortably as they can based on traffic conditions, general flow of traffic, various traffic signals, etc?
The only thing that is likely to significantly alter the speed at which people drive on the typical NYC side street is the level of police enforcement of the speed limit. People will continue to drive at whatever speed they believe is safe under the conditions unless they fear some potential consequence. No one ever thinks they may be driving at a speed where an accident or death is likely to occur so just informing the public about the new speed limit and the reasons behind it are not enough. There must be enforcement if you really want to change behavior.
We’re seeing this play out in Nassau County right now. For years there has been discussion about slowing down around school speed zones. Bigger signs, flashing lights, pavement markings, radars set up to display your speed and remind drivers to slow down all have been tried. This year Nassau has started camera enforcement. I personally drive by these schools now and almost every time the car in front of me slows right down to the posted school zone limit and speeds up again at the end. It’s the economic hit and the fear of the ticket coming in the mail that is causing people to change their behavior, not a sudden realization that they would rather not kill anyone. Most people were driving under the premise that they wouldn’t be killing anyone before as well.
As attorneys we are expecting a big speeding ticket push on local NYC streets. It’s the best of both worlds for politicians and enforcement and is the only way this ultimately works. They have the chance, via increased enforcement, to try to change behavior on the roadway and really make people aware of the new 25 mph limit. At the same time, millions in new revenue can be created for the city and the state in fines, surcharges, etc.
As always, let’s hope this increased enforcement is fair and reasonable both on the street and at the Traffic Violations Bureau for anyone who chooses to contest an officer allegation that they were driving greater than 25 mph.