Answer: Not right away. The law faces challenges from unions and in Albany.
In addition to the 2015 bus accidents reported in the previous blog post, nine people were killed in 2014 bus accidents. The need to improve this story state of affairs was enshrined in the mayor’s Vision Zero, which aims to end traffic fatalities altogether and is based on the belief that traffic crashes are not “accidents.”
The Right of Way law was developed and passed as part of Vision Zero. This law makes it a misdemeanor crime to injure or kill a pedestrian a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Although this law makes sense as part of the overall effort to eliminate traffic deaths, it has become controversial, especially among bus drivers.
Opposition to Right of Way Law From Bus Drivers and Supporters
Unions point to the work rules that the MTA imposes, especially in terms of bus route timetables that are punishing in a congested city such as New York. They also note that other cities have implemented safety measures on buses that include awareness systems that sound alarms when pedestrians are too close to buses.
The bottom line, however, is that bus drivers and their supporters wish to be exempt from the Right of Way law, even when they kill a pedestrian in the crosswalk, until bus mirrors are retrofitted and safety technology is implemented on all MTA routes.
Supporters of Drivers’ Campaign to Decriminalize Bus Fatalities and Injuries
The result of the campaign to exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way law has been a bill that seeks exemption for drivers as well as a lawsuit against the city. The City Council
Their campaign caused NYC City Council members to introduce a bill to exempt bus drivers from criminal penalties when they kill or injure pedestrians with the right of way; 25 council members signed on to the bill. The NY senate to introduced a bill to exempt bus drivers from arrest in the event of a pedestrian injury or fatality. It passed in the Senate, but did not pass in the Assembly.
However, numerous citizens’ groups and organizations advocating for pedestrian safety have opposed these efforts. Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit that promotes alternatives to cars such as walking, biking and mass transit, has noted that eight of the nine people killed by buses in 2014 were in the crosswalk and had the right-of-way.
Citizen’s Groups and Businesses Support Right of Way Law
Rather than relaxing standards for bus drivers, advocates for applying the law equally say that bus drivers should actually be held to a higher standard because they receive special training focused on safely navigating the crowded streets of New York. Realizing that this is unrealistic, these advocates say that drivers should at least be held to the same standards as taxi drivers and ordinary commuters.
They also note that having different standards for different drivers weakens the law, destroying public trust and reducing adherence to the law. Finally, they say that all vehicles have blind spots, and using them as an excuse to exempt drivers from the provisions of the Right of Way law does not account for the fact that most drivers figure out where the blind spots are and adjust their driving habits.
Others, including editorial writers in business-oriented Crain’s Business Journal, point out that the MTA could relax the timetables that drivers must follow. One editorial offers other suggestions, such as reprogramming lights to prevent drivers from making turns while pedestrians are in crosswalks. They ask why New York cannot implement sensors that would alert bus drivers to the presence of pedestrians.
Based on evaluating the opposition to the law, it is clear that holding bus drivers accountable is only part of the solution to the problem of bus accidents. The situation requires everyone to step up to protect pedestrians on the streets of New York.