New York City's Right of Way law, which makes it a misdemeanor for a driver to fail to yield to a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way and injures them as a result, may soon have a significant exception. The State Senate recently voted 54-6 to pass a bill exempting taxi, livery, and bus drivers from the law, sending the bill over to the Assembly for another vote.
According to the Staten Island Advance, State Senator Joe Borelli explained his vote in favor of the exemption by arguing, "it's absurd this even needs a bill, not one bus driver who gets behind the wheel maliciously intends to strike a passenger." In response, Mayor Bill de Blasio came out in defense of the original Right of Way law stating that "...the basic law has to apply equally to all drivers, that's foundational to its effectiveness."
A number of advocacy groups have come out against the exemption including Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Families for Safe Streets, and Transportation Alternatives. Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives sent a memo to legislators which stated:
"The bill would create a special treatment for a certain set of drivers, mandating different standards for police practices and how the rules of the road are applied. The bill attempts to micro-manage and hamstring the police in an area where police officers must have some level of discretion. Furthermore, the special treatment it seeks does not include an exception for suspected crimes that include more serious degrees of culpability. A police officer could be forced to provide this special treatment even for a reckless or intentionally violent act by a driver behind the wheel."
According to the City of New York, approximately 4,000 New Yorkers are seriously injured and over 250 are killed every year as a result traffic crashes. The Right-of-Way law is an effort to reduce these numbers. The advocates of applying the law equally to everybody who drives in the City of New York are absolutely right. By exempting bus, taxi, and livery drivers from this law, we are simply decreasing the effectiveness of this law and making the streets more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.
Not only does the law, as it is currently written, attempt to protect pedestrians and cyclists, but it also makes it easier for a pedestrian or a cyclist who is hit by a motor vehicle to recover from the driver in a civil suit. Violation of a statute is evidence of negligence per se and the conviction of the driver will almost always create civil liability, permitting a chance at monetary recovery. The shift in the law proposed by the City Counsel not only shields bus drivers, taxi drivers, and livery drivers from criminal charges, but also may carry with it the unfortunately effect of protecting these drivers from civil liability in these accidents.