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Right of Way Law: Is Arresting Bus Drivers the Answer?

The lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy are often asked to represent victims in very serious bus accidents so our stance on this new hot-button issue may surprise you...

Read about it below.

A recent bus accident that occurred in the Bronx has sparked a public debate about a new law that holds bus drivers criminally accountable for failing to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. The accident that gave rise to the debate involves an MTA bus that struck a 64-year-old pedestrian who was walking in a crosswalk in the Bronx. The bus operator, Theresa Gallagher, was arrested and charged with violating the newly enacted Right of Way Law. The criminal charge, a misdemeanor, could land Gallagher in the clink for as many as 30 days. Transit Workers Union officials have been very vocal in their opposition to this new law. Their fear is that drivers who make genuine mistakes that lead to accidents will be labeled as criminals. They have employed some outsized rhetoric to illustrate their point, often resorting to hyperbole. The hyperbole tends to detract from their message. Gallagher was the first bus driver charged under the new law. Since then, several other drivers have been charged with violating the Right of Way Law.

Are bus drivers getting a fair shake?

In an effort to persuade people about their position, the Union and media outlets have tried to portray the law as rigid leading to an automatic criminal charge for a driver who strikes a pedestrian in the crosswalk. They used the Gallagher case as an example: arguing that there was no way she could have seen the victim because of lighting conditions and a faulty street lamp. Advocates of the law have cited a rich history of drivers escaping accountability despite causing very serious injuries or death. We are not in the position to debate whether Gallagher was or wasn't at fault in this accident; nor are we able to opine about whether her conduct met the required standard to be charged under the law. However, we will say that this law is dangerous. Why? It provides a forum to charge good, hard-working folks with a crime because they made an innocuous mistake behind the wheel. Is Gallagher the type of person we want to label a criminal and throw in jail?

  • She has been driving a bus in New York City for more than 25 years.
  • She remained at the scene after the collision.
  • She was not speeding.
  • She was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Criminal?

There is a division between criminal conduct and a mistake. There is a remedy available to victims when someone makes a mistake behind the wheel and injures or kills someone: a civil suit which should be brought in a civil court. What comes next? Are we going to criminally charge people who accidentally go through a stop sign? A red light? When do we cross that ever-elusive line?

We take pride in representing victims of serious bus accidents. Most of our clients have no interest in the driver who mistakenly struck them being arrested and charged with a crime. Rather, they want what is fair and to get their lives back on track. Charging bus drivers who are making innocent mistakes will certainly deter drivers who have the propensity to take unnecessary risks, but is the price that we as a society may pay worth it? It says here that bus drivers should not face criminal charges absent any intentional or reckless conduct while they are operating a bus.

Block O'Toole & Murphy is a law firm committed to fighting on behalf of serious accident victims. The talented lawyers at this firm have amassed nearly $900 million in verdicts and settlements for their clients. You may learn more about the firm by reviewing their website at www.blockotoole.com. You may also contact them at any time at 212-736-5300.

Sources: http://gothamist.com/2015/07/06/mta_bus_bronx_streetlight.php; http://nypost.com/2015/07/06/mta-claims-first-bus-driver-arrested-under-vision-zero-policy-wasnt-at-fault/

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