By: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq. Published: 1/27/22
New York is a massive state, covering almost 55,000 square miles and each of the state's 62 counties is unique in its own way. Traffic ticket trends have always historically varied from county to county, but never was this more true than during 2020. The pandemic sharply reduced the number of drivers on the road, which in turn cut down on both traffic accidents and traffic tickets issued that year.
Overall, traffic tickets in New York State declined by 35% last year, according to data from the DMV. Some counties saw a substantially greater drop in total tickets, while others actually saw increases. Here is what our expert analysts found.
NYC Saw the Greatest Declines
All five of New York City’s boroughs (which are also counties) were among those counties that saw the greatest decrease in traffic ticket issuances. Manhattan had the biggest drop-off, with almost 60% fewer tickets written in 2020 than in 2019. It was followed by State Island, where police wrote roughly half as many tickets last year as the year before.
The biggest declines weren’t only in the most populous counties. Rensselaer County, which has one-tenth the population of Manhattan and normally sees one-tenth as many tickets, experienced a 41% decline in tickets last year. Tioga and Orleans counties, which have even smaller populations, had a 41% and 37% drop, respectively.
Traffic Tickets in New York StateGreatest Decline in Tickets by County
Not All Tickets Declined at the Same Rate
The decrease in traffic tickets varied both by county and by ticket type. Statewide, speeding tickets saw the smallest decline last year, with just a 16% drop. Conversely, police wrote 64% fewer tickets for improper turns and only half as many cell phone tickets as in 2019.
Traffic Tickets in New York StateDeclines in Tickets by Violation
|Improper Turn at Intersection (V&T 1160)||48,279||17,618||-63.5%|
|Lane Violation (V&T 1127)||8,836||3,846||-56.5%|
|Disobeyed Traffic Device (V&T 1110 or 1115)||269,710||133,283||-50.6%|
|Cell Phone (V&T 1225-c)||71,059||35,257||-50.4%|
|Turn Signal (V&T 1163-1164)||108,282||54,928||-49.3%|
|Stop Sign (V&T 1172)||104,902||53,726||-48.8%|
|Texting (V&T 1225-d)||109,026||58,737||-46.1%|
|Failed to Yield Right-of-Way (V&T 1140)||26,075||14,822||-43.2%|
|Safety Restraints (V&T 1229-c)||148,270||87,527||-41.0%|
|Following Too Closely (V&T 1129)||24,964||15,202||-39.1%|
|Crossing Lines (V&T 1128)||69,342||46,953||-32.3%|
|Failure to Keep Right (V&T 1120)||12,979||9,469||-27.0%|
|Speeding (V&T 1180)||672,925||565,548||-16.0%|
Within each county, these figures varied significantly. For example, drivers in Essex County received 46% fewer speeding tickets in 2020 than in 2019, despite seeing just 28% fewer tickets in total (19,016 compared to 13,795).
Decrease in NY Speeding Tickets by County, 2019 - 2020
When it came to texting while driving, 10 New York counties saw their share of citations reduced more than half. Orleans County, which typically sees fewer than 100 texting tickets on any given year, had just 10 in 2020. Even in Staten Island, a substantial drive-through state for travelers heading from New Jersey to other parts of New York, police wrote 66% fewer texting tickets last year than in 2019.
Decrease in NY Texting Tickets by County, 2019 - 2020
Summonses for driving while impaired by drugs and/or alcohol (DWI) declined just 27% in New York last year, from nearly 57,000 in 2019 to just over 40,000. (Note that this does not include the total number of arrests for DWI; only the number of summonses written.) The most substantial decreases were predominantly in smaller counties, which typically see fewer than 500 drivers charged with the offense in a given year. For example, Tioga County had a 60% drop, although the numerical decrease was quite small, with 182 summonses in 2019 and just 73 in 2020. However, some larger counties, such as Erie and Westchester, had declines of nearly 40%.
Decrease in DWI Summonses in NY by County, 2019 - 2020
Not All Counties Saw Declines
Some New York counties saw increases in either overall traffic tickets or certain offenses. Wayne County had a surprising 8% increase in traffic tickets in 2020. Even more unusual is that the county had experienced a 20% decline in tickets between 2018 and 2019 and total tickets have been falling steadily since spiking in 2015.
Meanwhile, Greene County had a minor uptick (1%) in tickets last year. DMV data shows that traffic ticket totals in Greene fluctuate between 19,000 and 16,000 tickets on any given year, an unusual inconsistency among New York counties.
It’s also worth noting that Greene County had the largest increase in speeding tickets last year, one of only 10 counties that saw a rise in the violation. In total, speeding tickets rose 17% from about 4,300 to 5,100. Wayne County had an 11% increase.
Increases in NY Speeding Tickets by County, 2019 - 2020
Thirteen of the state’s 62 counties had an increase in texting-while-driving tickets, although the majority were counties that see few instances of the offense. Only one county, Seneca, had an increase in DWI summonses (223 in 2019 compared to 227 in 2020).
Increases in NY Texting Tickets By County, 2019 - 2020
Is There a Pattern to These Changes?
While each county has a reason for the changes, there is no immediately discernible pattern. Our analysts found that the decreases in traffic tickets could not be correlated to population size, median household income (as wealthier families may have been better able to work from home), or even COVID-19 infection rates.
The most obvious possible correlation would be the decline in total vehicle-miles traveled during 2020 compared to previous years. However, county-level data is not available for the year 2020.
The only existing data point that had any relationship to the decline of traffic tickets was the decline of automobile accidents in each county. Overall, New York State saw 27% fewer car crashes, down from more than 447,000 in 2019 to approximately 327,000 in 2020. The list of counties with the biggest decline in car accidents is largely similar to the list of counties with the largest decline in traffic tickets.
NY Counties With the Greatest Decline in Auto Accidents, 2019 - 2020
Four out of the five boroughs of New York City are in the top 10, with Manhattan and Staten Island seeing the greatest decline in crashes (42% and 39%, respectively). This is an uncommon relationship, as accidents usually increase when traffic ticket issuance declines.
However, this still makes sense in one regard. The reduction in overall traffic is most likely the predominant reason for the decline of tickets, and this reduction would also mean fewer accidents. Naturally, accidents did not fall as much as tickets. The likely reason for this? Reduced police activity encouraged more unsafe driving among those vehicles still on the road.
The pandemic has upended many aspects of the way New Yorkers work and live, and it’s clear that driving behavior is one of them. But like many things wrought from the pandemic—from mask-wearing to working from home—it remains unclear how lasting these trends will be.
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