Will NYPD Apply New Vision Zero Law to Cabbie Who Killed Woman on UES?

NYPD has not filed charges against a cab driver who killed a pedestrian on the Upper East Side last week, despite indications that the crash may warrant a misdemeanor charge under a new city law.

The cab driver who killed a woman on the Upper East Side last week may or may not lose his hack license under Cooper's Law. Image: WCBS
The cab driver who killed a woman on the Upper East Side last week may or may not be charged under a new law that makes it a misdemeanor to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. Image: WCBS

Available information suggests the cab driver failed to yield to a pedestrian with the right of way. According to press accounts, the 58-year-old victim was in a crosswalk at around 2 p.m. last Friday when the cab driver, who was northbound on Madison, hit her while turning left onto E. 79th Street. The victim was dragged before the driver came to a stop, leaving her pinned beneath the Nissan NV200 cab until witnesses overturned the vehicle, which was still running, to free her.

The woman was declared dead at Lenox Hill Hospital. As of Thursday morning her identity was still being withheld pending family notification, according to NYPD.

The 30-year-old cab driver was not injured, reports said, and his passenger was treated for a head injury at the scene.

“Preliminarily, both of them had the right of way,” an NYPD spokesperson said. This is not possible, but it is a strong indication that the victim was crossing with the walk signal. Since the motorist would have been required by law to yield in this situation, only the victim would have had the right of way.

A new city law makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way. Intro 238, now known as Section 19-190, took effect last month, but at that time a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio said NYPD wasn’t yet ready to enforce it.

The investigation into Friday’s fatal crash is ongoing, NYPD said. Neither NYPD nor the TLC would release the driver’s name. The TLC has suspended the driver’s hack license for now, but said what happens next depends on the police. “We await the outcome of PD’s investigation, and any charges or summonses that may result,” said TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg.

Since NYPD will usually release the name of a driver who is involved in a serious crash if (and only if) charges or summonses are issued, it seems likely that hasn’t happened yet — and police and prosecutors rarely issue charges against a driver unless they do so in the immediate aftermath of a crash.

Under another new law that takes effect on September 21, the TLC can suspend or revoke the hack licenses of cab drivers who kill and injure pedestrians and cyclists while breaking traffic laws. Called “Cooper’s Law,” it was prompted by the death of 9-year-old Cooper Stock, who was struck by a taxi driver in an Upper West Side crosswalk last January. That driver was not charged by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, and lost his hack license because the crash occurred during a one-year probationary period and the TLC opted not to renew it.

Since Intro 238 took effect on August 22, New York City motorists have killed at least three more pedestrians and injured several others. A driver killed a 62-year-old man in Midwood on August 28. The same day, a driver struck three seniors, killing 82-year-old Shu Fan Huang, on South Street in Manhattan. A driver killed a 53-year-old man in Jamaica on August 30. On September 2, an MTA bus driver injured a senior in Maspeth, and a livery cab driver jumped a curb and crushed a pedestrian’s leg in Cobble Hill.

No charges were reported filed for any of those crashes.

NYPD currently investigates only a fraction of serious crashes. The city’s package of new Vision Zero laws are not going to reduce traffic injuries and deaths if Mayor de Blasio’s NYPD doesn’t enforce them.

  • WalkingNPR

    “Preliminarily, both of them had the right of way,” an NYPD spokesperson said.

    Gathering back up the pieces of my head that just exploded after reading that sentence, I am so sick of the sentiment that accepts that killing a fellow human being through inattention, rushing, not following the law–whatever–is an “accident.” Scared to prosecute people who do this because you’re afraid one day you might be on the wrong side of that prosecution? Tough luck–start driving like operating a 2-ton piece of machinery is an actual responsibility with potentially deadly consequences.

    I know I’m preaching to the choir saying that here, but how do we get the NYPD to understand that, much less average Joe? (or maybe I have reversed who will be harder to convince….)

  • Joe Enoch

    Yeah, I had to read it twice to make sure I wasn’t crazy. I mean how is that even possible?

  • WalkingNPR

    Yeeeah….that’s pretty much exactly the thing “right-of-way” is established to clarify, is it not? Both could have the green light, but only one could have right-of-way.

  • J

    “Preliminarily, both of them had the right of way”
    This pretty much sums up the attitude of the NYPD: Drivers always have the right of way.

  • cmu

    And even if she didn’t have the right-of-way, what kind of society condones manslaughter-by-car? Unless she just RAN in front of the car, there should be some consequences to this ‘accident.’

  • Alex

    I often point out that there is NO OTHER area in human behavior where we excuse actions causing death because it was unintentional. This is my approach to those not involved in safe streets advocacy:

    In what other situation do we make excuses for the person who caused the death? No one started rationalizing the actions of the train operator after the MNR crash last year. No one insisted the parents whose children died in hot cars shouldn’t be charged because they didn’t mean any harm. So why do we accept this? In every other situation we expect there to be consequences when someone’s actions directly result in death, regardless of intent. So why don’t we have that expectation when the incident happens to involve someone driving a car?

  • qrt145

    I’m not sure that’s true. I often see cases where some people comment that the parent shouldn’t be charged for the accidental deaths of their child, whether in a hot car, swimming pool, or with a firearm, just to give three of the more often discussed scenarios. The argument often boils down to “losing their child is punishment enough.” (Of course, there are notorious exceptions such as the man recently accused of intentionally killing his child in a hot car.)

    But yes, the tolerance given to killing by motor vehicle is even greater than that, and while some people do try the “the knowledge that they killed someone is punishment enough”, it carries less weight given that the driver in most cases didn’t know the victim.

  • It’s an attitude that gets problems off your desk quickly, but of course it’s bulls**t.

  • walks bikes drives

    A driver turning left is required to yield to all other traffic. Thus, the turning driver has the least right of way of any other street user, except those with a red light.

  • Joe R.

    This is why the concept of right-of-way is a two-sided monster. On the one hand, we could say it protects vulnerable users. On the other, it could be used to absolve motorists (and even cyclists/pedestrians) of their duty to look even when they have the right-of-way. Right-of-way isn’t something you take. It’s something given to you by others. That means it’s not an absolute. It also means you must look to see if it’s clear before availing yourself of your right-of-way. One big reason I refuse to cross streets at intersections where view of oncoming traffic is blocked by parked vehicles, even if such intersections are signalized, is precisely because I’m unable to do this. Having the right-of-way means you MAY proceed if conditions warrant, not that you MUST proceed, or that you’re free to proceed if, for example, a pedestrian is still crossing the street. Unfortunately, the police, as well as many motorists, interpret right-of-way as an absolute. The second the light goes green, they’re on the gas regardless of what’s in front of them. If you have right-of-way and kill someone who didn’t, you’re absolved in their eyes. This is one big reason why I prefer uncontrolled intersections. Nobody has the right-of-way at such intersections, meaning the onus is on everyone to exercise vigilance.

  • Maggie

    This quote from NYPD – they aren’t sure whether the deceased 58-year-old woman had the right not to be run over and killed by a taxi while she was in the crosswalk with the light?! – is breathtaking. It makes me nauseous. Who is NYPD even claiming to be protecting? I’m pretty surprised city council member Dan Garodnick isn’t calling for enforcement and an arrest after a woman was killed in his district. If I were MMV I’d be scheduling hearings on why NYPD isn’t familiar with the laws they’re out there to enforce. If I were Bratton I’d be composing an all-caps memo about Intro 238 and about to fire the next person who waves off someone’s gruesome, bloody death this way. This is ludicrous, so dangerous, and so unacceptable. Please arrest this killer driver.

    I can’t believe NYPD thinks it’s fine for every one of us – and them – to wonder if he’s the cabdriver barreling towards them as they cross the street. I hope the 19th Precinct will spend some time with failure-to-yield enforcements for the many thousands of pedestrians just trying to get through the day, and consider what it says when a killer walks away with a “whoops. You must be awfully shaken up.”

  • AN

    “Preliminarily, both of them had the right of way,” an NYPD spokesperson said.
    This NYPD spokesperson needs to be fired, ASAP, along with everyone else at NYPD who doesn’t understand the very basic and fundamental law that says: Motor vehicles must yield to pedestrians. I’m so sick of NYPD cluelessness on this issue. How long is it going to take to get these guys to give a crap? The entire city is held hostage by this out-dated attitude and lack of care for the more vulnerable.

  • SheRidesABike

    Right. It doesn’t really take any more effort to put your foot on the brake than it does to hit the horn. So why can’t drivers just make it a habit to hit the brakes? /rhetorical

  • Brad Aaron

    I don’t know for sure, but my sense was the spokesperson — who was very helpful — was interpreting what was provided to DCPI.

    If I had to guess I’d say whatever notes they got said that both the pedestrian and the driver were proceeding with a green light, and the spox understood that to mean they both had the right of way.

    Doesn’t excuse it by any means, but that’s my take on where it came from.

  • UWS PED

    I believe in most European countries the driver is held responsible for hitting pedestrians, no matter who is at fault. One must always be in control of the auto and alert to pedestrians, considering weight/velocity issues. In New York many drivers speed up at crosswalks when they have the light, even though pedestrians are in their path. What does that say about them and their opinion of a life? It is about time pedestrians had a no fault status when out and about. A law holding drivers responsible at that level would certainly make for a sea change in our driving culture.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    True, but imagine the child was left in the hot car by someone other than the parent – i.e. a babysitter or a teacher.

  • brenda

    I’m from California, where the LAW states: the pedestrian ALWAYS has the right-of-way. The instant a pedestrian steps off the sidewalk every single car will come to a complete stop. However, pedestrians DO NOT jaywalk ! They wait for the signal to change to green before even stepping off the sidewalk. Jaywalking will get you a BIG ticket in Cali

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