The City Council recently enacted a right of way law that creates a misdemeanor charge for drivers who strike pedestrians or bicyclists who have the right of way if the driver failed to exercise due care. This law is part of the City’s much heralded ‘Vision Zero’ plan to virtually eliminate traffic fatalities.
It is understandable that this law has generated its share of controversy. Never before has New York City been the site of such frequent and horrific accidents involving catastrophic injuries to pedestrians struck by motor vehicles. The increase in fatalities and severe injuries is a result of the ever-increasing population in New York City and the corresponding increase in drivers on the roadways.
Any effort to expose negligent drivers to criminal penalties is an obvious effort to make the streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Still, are decent people being unnecessarily exposed to criminal prosecution for a simple mistake? Are hardworking folks being labeled as criminals and their families left to suffer because of an innocent error in judgment? This is a spirited debate that is sure to continue as the ‘Vision Zero’ plan becomes more entrenched.
This post is not to tell you what you should think about the law. Frankly, we have some hesitations about the new law and how it will be used. Rather, the focus of this article is to expose the MTA for its unforgivable stance in the face of the new law. Their position is grounded in self-preservation and money rather than making people safer.
Amidst the push for safer streets, the MTA is lobbying to have bus drivers exempted from the Vision Zero law. They argue that there are built-in blind spots on the buses, so the drivers cannot be held to the same standard of care as other motorists. The argument, however, is difficult to blindly accept. Why?
MTA bus operators drive some of the city’s largest and most dangerous vehicles. If the MTA is acknowledging that the very design of those buses is unsafe to the point that the drivers cannot adequately observe pedestrians and/or bicyclists, the solution is not to argue that bus operators should be exempt from criminal responsibility. That very well may be part of the ultimate discussion but the primary focus should be, why are we not making safer buses? The objective should be to find a safer design for the bus and make sure the bus operators are thoroughly and properly trained before they ever get behind the wheel.
Why would they take any other position? It says here that their motivations are self-preservation and the almighty dollar. Changing the design of buses would be an admission that they designed and approved an unsafe one originally. It would also result in significant costs. The new buses would costs tons of money. The MTA should feel compelled to make the buses safer rather than try to convince the City Council that MTA bus operators should be above the law. Instead, they have opted to save their reputations and preserve their coiffeurs.
Blind spots for bus or truck drivers can lead to a variety of accidents including pedestrian knock downs, collisions with bicyclists, side swipe impacts with cars, hit in the rear accidents, head-on collisions or T-bone impacts. They can all be the result of a driver of a large vehicle being unable to see what is there to be seen. Alternatively these accidents can occur when bus or truck drivers are straining to see what is in their blind spots and in so doing they become distracted from the road in front of them.
No matter how it happens, what is clear is that this is a matter of public safety. The MTA needs to get it right, design buses that allow a safe field of vision for the bus operators. So, let’s table the criminal prosecution chatter and take steps to prevent further accidents leading to serious injuries or death. Make the buses safe!
Block O’Toole & Murphy LLP has successfully represented many New Yorkers injured in bus crashes. Our clients have included pedestrians, bus passengers and motorists. The firm has recovered more than $850,000,000 for the injured victims we represent. You can learn more about the success stories of the firm and their talented lawyers at the firm by reviewing the Block O’Toole & Murphy website at www.blockotoole.com.