Princeton Police are issuing many fewer traffic tickets, and dramatically fewer speeding tickets, than before the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s the finding of a review by ‘Walkable Princeton’, which raises questions about whether the town and police are doing enough to keep vulnerable road users safe.
Princeton Council reviews a police activity report every few months, which includes figures about efforts to enforce traffic laws. At the Council meeting on September 27, Council reviewed police reports for June and July of 2022. The June 2022 report included the figure that only 29 summonses for speeding had been issued that month, that is, less than one a day. We looked at how that compares to before the pandemic…
In June 2019, Princeton Police issued 200 speeding tickets. The rate for June 2022 was therefore less than 15% of what it had been for the equivalent month before the pandemic. To check whether this was an unusually large drop, we considered figures for summonses issued in each month from April – July 2019, and the equivalent period for 2022. As seen in the graph below, the number of summonses issued for speeding was much lower in every month of 2022 compared to the same month of 2019. For June and July, police were issuing less than a quarter of the number of speeding tickets as they did in 2019.
It wasn’t just that Princeton Police were issuing fewer summonses for speeding. The total number of all traffic summonses issued in 2022, including things like enforcement of unlicensed drivers or unregistered vehicles, was much lower than in 2019. By the end of July 2022, police had issued a total of 1,590 traffic summonses for the year-to-date. For the equivalent period in 2019, the figure was 3,307. The equivalent figure for 2018 was 3,500. The numbers suggest that police activity in enforcing traffic violations is at less than half of what it was pre-pandemic, and may be even lower for speed enforcement.
The drop in traffic enforcement comes amid a national surge in traffic fatalities. 2021 saw the highest rate of deaths on US roads in 16 years, and the biggest year-over-year increase ever. Speeding is estimated to be a contributory factor in 29% of these crashes. In Princeton, residents regularly point to dangerous roads as a reason why they do not walk or cycle more. This year, the Princeton Engineering Department has had to go to Council two times to issue pleas to remind drivers to operate their vehicles with respect for the law. The Princeton Police Department has historically favored ‘education’ as the primary means to reduce speeding in town, but it’s possible that the only thing that drivers are learning from this is that there is not much chance of facing any consequences for driving at unsafe speeds.