Traffic safety in New Orleans has been in the news of late thanks to two separate stories. First, the Mayor announced plans on Monday to nearly double the number of traffic cameras in New Orleans. The city’s plan would add 45 cameras near schools and 10 mobile traffic cameras. The second story came from an Inspector General report which found the city was woefully short of pedestrian crossing signals.

The public safety of both motorists and pedestrians is an important issue, and efforts to improve safety are commendable. But arguably the biggest issue regarding traffic safety in New Orleans isn’t cameras or pedestrian crossings, rather it’s the steep drop in traffic enforcement over the last four years.

Traffic enforcement can be measured with relative effectiveness by counting up the number of Traffic Incident (Signal 18) Calls for Service in New Orleans. Traffic incidents can be a catch all for a variety of traffic violations. These can range from reckless operation of a vehicle, speeding, driving without a license, or even not using one’s hands while riding a bike.  The vast majority of these incidents are resolved with the Necessary Action Taken (NAT) disposition suggesting the issuance of either a ticket or warning.

I went back to 2010 and calculated the total number of traffic incidents in each year. Traffic enforcement was relatively steady in 2010, 2011 and 2012 but these incidents have dropped over 60 percent from the end of 2012 to present. New Orleans is currently on pace for 38,346 traffic incidents in 2016, a 61.4 percent drop from 2010 as seen below.

Year Traffic Incidents Change from 2010
2010 99,284 -
2011 97,855 -1.4%
2012 94,731 -4.6%
2013 81,499 -17.9%
2014 61,486 -38.1%
2015 51,115 -48.5%
2016 38,346* -61.4%
* Pace through 10/18/2016

The drop in traffic incidents has been steady over time as shown in the below graph. This graph measures the number of incidents over 365 days going back to the start of 2011. traffic

Of course the Calls for Service totals don’t include traffic camera tickets so it’s not possible to say how much of the speeding and red light enforcement have been replaced by cameras. It’s also not possible to say that traffic safety has inherently gone down just because the number of traffic stops made has plummeted though that seems to be a logical conclusion. DWI incidents, for example, are on pace to fall 59 percent from 2011 to 2016. It’s possible, though unlikely, that total represents safer driving on the part of New Orleanians.

In the end, whether or not to add more traffic cameras obscures the larger issue: namely the impact of NOPD’s manpower woes on traffic enforcement. Traffic cameras may generate revenue for the city and improve public safety in and around schools, but the bigger problem of declining traffic enforcement will likely remain.