The Daily News editorial board has recently taken on the Right of Way Law, enacted about a year ago, that was intended to reduce injuries and deaths among pedestrians and bike riders. The idea was to require law enforcement to investigate such accidents and issue misdemeanor charges when required. Crashes that involved driving into a person who had the right of way were no longer to be classified as “accidents” and cleared quickly to keep traffic moving.
The Daily News editorial board supports the effort in Albany to weaken this law by excluding so-called “professional” drivers such as bus drivers, taxi drivers and limousine drivers. The reason, according to the Daily News editorial, is that the law isn’t working. But is this really the case?
The reason the law isn’t working, according to the Daily News, is that is has not been applied. There have been only a few dozen cases, mostly brought against bus drivers. But does failure to apply the law make it a bad law?
Let’s look at the numbers. Between September 2013 to May 2014, 121 pedestrians were killed by drivers. From September 2014 to May 2015, New York City drivers killed 95 pedestrians. This is a 24 percent reduction in street fatalities. And bus drivers have not killed anyone in 2015 so far. When it comes to injuries, those are down as well. In the nine months since the law went into effect, 7,869 pedestrians were injured, compared to 8,925 in the same period the previous year.
The reason to get rid of the law, according to the Daily News editorial, is that the bus drivers who were charged and prosecuted pleaded to lower city or state traffic charges, not misdemeanors.
Does any of this mean the law isn’t working? According to Streetsblog, the Daily News editorial board used to complain that the law was too harsh. Now it is complaining that it is too weak to be effective. It is not clear that the Right of Way law by itself is responsible for the decline in pedestrian and bicyclist deaths. There has been a significant amount of street improvements and traffic cameras installed that almost certainly are part of the cause of this welcome reduction. However, to give up on the law right now, when things appear to be heading in the right direction, is short-sighted.