7 On Your Side Investigates: The human impact of traffic deaths

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- New York City has officially launched its annual Dusk and Darkness Campaign to encourage safety on the roads, especially during the winter season when drivers encounter fewer hours of sunlight.

Historically, the winter months have marked a 40% increase in severe crashes, according to the New York City Department of Transportation.

Additionally, over 20% of the cyclist fatalities in 2019 happened after sundown, according to the DOT.

The campaign took effect as city leaders also unveiled a new Streets Plan to overhaul New York City roads and add additional protections for the city's most vulnerable travelers, cyclists and pedestrians.

Meanwhile, family members who have lost loved ones in traffic crashes are speaking out about how those crashes have permanently impacted their lives. They hope other drivers will hear their stories and respond by slowing down and paying more attention on the road.

"We are like any other family, but we carry deep scars," said Sangeeta Badlani, whose son died when a driver ran a red light and hit his car. "They said, 'We tried our best. We couldn't do anything.'"

Hsi-Pei Liao said he began advocating for transportation safety in the hopes of honoring his daughter, who was run over while she crossed the road in a crosswalk with her grandmother.

"It's not just one person's life that is affected," Liao said. "It is a whole community that is affected."

Amanda Hanna McLeer also spoke with 7 On Your Side Investigates. Her mother's partner died while sitting on his bicycle when a speeding car slammed into another car, sending that car into his bike.

"He was following all the rules of the road," McLeer said. "You have to think about the human impact."

Traffic deaths continue to be a leading cause of death in the US with urban areas like New York City particularly a concern.

Since 2009, motorcycle deaths have climbed 33% in urban areas, bicyclist deaths have climbed 48%, and pedestrian deaths have climbed 69%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, even as overall yearly traffic deaths the past 10 years have hovered around 33,000 to 37,000 people.

"Yet we don't hear anybody talk about motor vehicle crashes because they think it is inevitable," Badlani said.

These families argue traffic deaths don't have to be inevitable, and they hope a little extra caution by everyone will spare other families their pain.

"When you are operating a multi-ton car at lethal speeds that can cause someone to lose their life at a moment's inattention, just like carrying a loaded gun, there has to be a recognition of the awesome responsibility that it is," said Marco Conner, co-deputy director of a the transportation safety advocacy group, Transportation Alternatives.

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