In 2019 traffic deaths soared to 29 traffic fatalities as law enforcement fell. A dramatic drop in tickets issued to drivers by San Francisco police led to many unnecessary deaths in 2019. There were too many unfilled vacancies in the police departments traffic division. Turnover at the top of the traffic division has led to a huge void in leadership for safety enforcement. In 2014 the police ticketed drivers for 124,870 traffic violations. In 2018 the department issued just 50,895 tickets. Similar drops in tickets occurred in 2019.
The Police Department needs to “focus on the five” most dangerous driving behaviors: speeding, failing to stop at a red light, failing to stop at a stop sign, failing to give pedestrians the right of way and failing to yield to pedestrians while turning. The number of citations for those specific behaviors are very low. In 2018 police handed out just 20,154 for the five most dangerous violations. For example, police at Northern Sation which includes such busy streets as Van Ness Avenue, Franklin and Gough Streets didn’t issue a single ticket for speeding or failing to yield in the first half of 2019. In the Tenderloin there were only 3 citations for speeding and none for failing to yield to pedestrians. The limited police enforcement has led to a surge in pedestrian deaths.
The Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024 centers around the “three e’s” — educating road users about safe driving and safe behavior, engineering safer streets and enforcement by police officers. Some progress has been made with engineering safer streets and attempts are being made to improve driving behavior, but law enforcement has declined, causing major problems with attaining zero traffic fatalities by 2024. Keeping track of citations provides one way of determining if law enforcement is taking place. The dramatic drop in traffic citations shows that the third “e” is not happening. In 2014 law enforcement did increase regarding the “focus five” but in 2018 enforcement dropped and 2019 was another down year for enforcement citations.
At the state level, there are efforts being made to allow automated speed cameras to ticket drivers going too fast without requiring police officers. Hiring retired officers to help with traffic enforcement will increase citations. Intersection cameras can also catch drivers who run red lights and stop sign violators. Ticketing drivers for bad behavior should be an easy step in reducing traffic fatalities.
Bicyclists have suffered unnecessary deaths and severe injuries along with the increase in pedestrian deaths. Janice Li, advocacy director for the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, said the Police Department has many priorities and sadly traffic enforcement has fallen to the bottom of the list, leaving bicyclists and pedestrians at risk in 2019. The department created a pilot program of traffic officers to issue citations on the “focus on the five” violations and Mayor London Breed said she was doubling the program to eight officers to step up law enforcement. More tickets were issued to drivers parked or stopped in bike lanes. These measures should help reduce traffic deaths and injuries. However traffic citations must increase significantly to have any chance of significantly reducing traffic fatalities.
Lew Van Blois
Bay Area, Personal Injury Attorney
Bay Area Personal Injury attorney, Lew Van Blois, has written several blogs in the last 5 years to inform citizens, pedestrians and bicyclists of the unsafe San Francisco streets that already have caused 21 deaths this year. This is the second recent blog on this subject. Read the next blog on this subject to learn the identity of some of the speeders driving in San Francisco.