Pedestrians With the Right of Way Should Always Have Protection of the Law

Jiahuan Xu, 15, had the walk signal when she started across Grand Street in Williamsburg Friday morning. Before she reached the far side of the street, she was struck by a bus driver turning from Union Avenue and “pinned under the left front wheel,” according to the Daily News. After emergency responders rescued Xu, she was taken to Bellevue Hospital and may lose her left leg.

jiahuan_xu
Jiahuan Xu, 15, may lose her leg after an MTA bus driver struck her while she had the walk signal.

Francisco de Jesus, the MTA bus driver who struck Xu, faces a misdemeanor charge under the city’s recently enacted Right of Way Law, which means police took him to the 90th Precinct for a desk appearance ticket and he faces a $250 fine and up to 30 days in jail if convicted (a sentence with jail time for a first-time offense would be nearly unheard of, however).

The rush to discredit the new law came immediately after the arrest. TWU Local 100 spokesperson JP Patafio said bus drivers should not be held to the standards of the Right of Way Law because the “law of averages has it we’re going to get into an accident.” The Daily News’ Pete Donohue wrote that de Jesus was treated “like a common criminal.” And three City Council members — I. Daneek Miller, Peter Koo, and Donovan Richards — introduced a bill to exempt all bus drivers from the Right of Way Law.

Lost in the scrum was Jiahuan Xu and, in a larger but very real sense, everyone who walks in New York. Our laws are supposed to protect people walking who have the right of way. The justice system should recognize that by imposing consequences on people who injure pedestrians with the walk signal. But before the Right of Way Law, that almost never happened.

Thousands of people are hurt while walking on New York City streets each year, and of the victims who are struck in crosswalks, a majority have the walk signal. Until last year, however, NYPD policy discouraged any consequences for drivers who struck pedestrians with the right of way unless police personally witnessed the collision. The Right of Way Law changed that, enabling law enforcement to file charges based on witness testimony, video footage, and other evidence.

The question raised by the arrest of Francisco de Jesus is not whether he’s a decent person. Good people make mistakes with harmful consequences every day — and in general the law recognizes that carelessness can rise to the level of a crime. And this isn’t a debate about whether bus drivers have a hard job. There’s no doubt that driving a bus in New York is demanding, stressful, and deserving of respect.

The question is: Do our laws protect people walking with the right of way, or not?

If the answer is yes, then application of the law will not only lead to charges and steeper fines for violating pedestrians’ right of way, it will lead to widespread behavior change on the part of drivers, with fewer injuries and fatalities on the streets. TWU 100 President John Samuelsen’s message to MTA bus drivers this weekend is proof that the Right of Way Law matters:

It is imperative that we immediately move to defend our livelihoods and protect ourselves against these attacks. Therefore, we MUST Yield/Stop “when a pedestrian or bicyclist has the right of way.” If there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk, Yield/Stop your bus until they are on the sidewalk. We must exercise extreme caution at intersections and on roadways.

Of course, Samuelsen’s message is also a threat to slow down service and a pledge to fight for bus drivers to be exempt from the Right of Way Law.

But if some bus runs are a minute or two slower because the driver waited for the crosswalk to clear, that’s worth it. And if our laws protect everyone walking with the right of way, we can’t start carving out exceptions.

Instead, we should be asking why charges under the Right of Way Law are so rare. In the four months after the law took effect last August, only 12 charges were filed.

People with the right of way are struck by drivers of every type of vehicle, not just bus operators. The law should be applied consistently to all of them.

  • Eric McClure

    Poor kid. Hoping she beats the odds and makes a full recovery.

  • r

    Everything about the reaction to this, from the TWU’s threats of a slowdown to Pete Donohue at the Daily News calling TA zealots, is backwards. What does it say about us as a society that the press and politicians can muster more outrage for someone who might be fined $250 than they can for a girl who will live the rest of her life dealing with the consequences of someone else’s mistake? The bus driver was “distraught” because he’s a father himself? Imagine how distraught the girl’s actual father must be!

    If this were Pete Donohue’s kid, would he chalk it all up to the law of averages? No big deal, so long as someone isn’t out of a job? Pete, how many dead or injured people is worth it to keep the buses moving? I hope this case prompts some major soul searching among the spokespeople of so-called “real New Yorkers.”

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    Pete Donohue is an idiot.

    I am always surprised at the speeding and red light running I see from MTA bus drivers (I am witness to mostly the B8 on 18th Ave. and the B41 along Flatbush). I always think to myself, these are hourly employees why are they in such a hurry and so careless?

  • Simon Phearson

    Yeah, for all their protestations that they’re “professionals,” my experience with bus drivers (being on the receiving end of their aggression, never a beneficiary) is that they’re “professional drivers” the same way taxi drivers are – inured to the road’s dangers, they eagerly take risks that less experienced drivers know better than to take.

  • ”law of averages has it we’re going to get into an accident.

    That’s about the dumbest line of reasoning i’ve ever heard. That’s like saying doctors should be exempt from medical malpractice laws because they’re more likely to make a medical mistake.

    BTW… this is a fantastic paragraph:
    “The question raised by the arrest of Francisco de Jesus is not whether he’s a decent person. Good people make mistakes with harmful consequences every day — and in general the law recognizes that carelessness can rise to the level of a crime. And this isn’t a debate about whether bus drivers have a hard job. There’s no doubt that driving a bus in New York is demanding, stressful, and deserving of respect.

    The question is: Do our laws protect people walking with the right of way, or not?”

    This is a point that is lost far too often when discussing traffic laws. The point isn’t to punish good, decent people. The point is to make sure that good, decent people have strong incentives to be overly cautious when driving in situations where an honest mistake can cause severe injuries or death.

  • Joe R.

    Easy answer to your question-they finish their runs faster. After a run ends and they turn around to come back the other way they can pretty much do what they want until their bus is scheduled to depart. If you finish a run 15 minutes early, that’s 15 minutes extra you have, in addition to whatever slack time is already in between runs, to eat, read the paper, use the bathroom, etc.

    Of course, none of this justifies driving recklessly to finish a run sooner but I’m just giving what I might see as a logical answer to your question from a bus driver’s point of view.

    And you also have passengers pressuring bus drivers to go faster. This is particularly true if a bus is delayed, then hits a bit of open road where the driver can make up time. I personally feel the answer to all this is more bus lanes, traffic signal priority, prepaid boarding. If bus running times were reliable and quick, the driver really couldn’t gain much time by cutting corners, so there would be little incentive to do so.

  • JayAckroyd

    two words. Vision Zero.

  • Joe R.

    There is a grain of truth to that however. I’ve said repeatedly NYC’s traffic violence problems are caused by too much motor traffic as the root cause. All the other things like aggressive driving or speeding are merely symptoms of this fundamental problem. Crowded roads and inconsistent travel times lead to the type of driving behavior we see in NYC. Also, no matter how much enforcement when you have large numbers of motor vehicles in close proximity to even larger numbers of pedestrians or cyclists, fatalities will result. You might cut the fatalities by half with lower speeds and more enforcement, but they’ll still happen because people make mistakes. The real answer is to reduce the number of motor vehicles by at least 75%, better yet by 90%. With fewer vehicles there’s far less chance of one colliding with a vulnerable user. More importantly, when travel times are reliable you’ll see an end to the obnoxious, aggressive behavior drivers engage in, often just to gain one car length.

  • I absolutely agree with everything you said here. However, you have to agree that there is a certain amount of absurdity when someone is making the argument to exempt a group of people from a law that was passed to regulate that particular group.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, you’re right about that. The law clearly states a pedestrian in the crosswalk with the walk signal has the right of way. There’s no ambiguity. If a person gets hit under those circumstances, it’s either because the driver didn’t see them (meaning they were careless), or made a decision to turn despite seeing a person in their path (in which case they were reckless). Either scenario calls for legal sanctions.

  • Jesse

    If there were fewer private cars on the streets, bus drivers would be less worried about making the light and more worried about pedestrian safety.

  • “Good people make mistakes with harmful consequences every day”

    Which is why the parents of every single child that discharges a firearm should be charged with felony reckless endang

    Oh my god, I couldn’t even finish because I cracked myself up so hard!

  • Kevin Love

    “TWU Local 100 spokesperson JP Patafio said bus drivers should not be held to the standards of the Right of Way Law because the ‘law of averages has it we’re going to get into an accident.'”

    What a load of garbage. I am a professional Accountant. If I treated tax laws with the same reckless negligence that bus drivers treat traffic laws, I would be going straight to jail. And rightfully so.

    Would a spokesperson for my professional association say “the law of averages has it our members are going to commit fraud or embezzlement” so these things should be legal for professional Accountants?

    No? Didn’t think so.

  • tbatts666

    This law seems like a good thing, however, the design of our city streets is truly to blame for the loss of life.

    We aren’t perfect. Anyone who drives has had that close call. Infrastructure should be built that can stop this kind of accident in the first place.

  • tbatts666

    Just took a peek at this intersection on google maps.

    Maybe curb bulb outs could have prevented this accident?

  • AnoNYC

    The solution here is better designed buses with safety features like cameras/proximity sensors/wheel cages, BRT implementations to reduce driver stress, congestion pricing, eliminating parking minimums, and intersection redesigns.

    Allowing other road users to get hurt or killed is ridiculous.

  • J

    Very well said.

  • Also: sperate signals for walking and traffic. That would fix a whole lot here.

  • kevd

    On the B35 Limited the other day, my driver ran three red lights to get through Coney Island Ave. Probably to stay on schedule.

  • RepubAnon

    It’s really sad to see more and more people think that they’re above the law. It’s as if they all think they’re Jamie Dimond of Chase Bank.

  • Reader

    It’s disgusting that TWU would play the class card. If you want to see a very diverse and broad array of people from all walks of NYC life — rich, poor and everything in between — one need only look at the people who have been hit and killed by MTA buses over the past year.

  • Tyson White

    It’s pretty clear what’s happening: NYPD never like the mayor, and are principally against Vision Zero. They are “enforcing” Vision Zero in a way that they think will create public backlash against the mayor. Instead of focusing on more dangerous driving behavior like speeding/texting, they are going after the smaller stuff. They also know that arresting bus drivers will start a big ruckus, so they do that while NOT arresting drivers in private cars who hit pedestrians.

  • dporpentine

    The law of averages . . .

    I can’t even mock that line. It’s. so. evil.

    Listen, world: your decisions are not accidents. They are bad decisions. They are consciously made and they carry the consequences of consciousness. Among those is the possibility that you will be hauled away in handcuffs.

    I actually don’t want you to be hauled away in handcuffs. I want you to avoid making those bad decisions in the first place. But so long as you subscribe to the myth of The Accident, you’re doomed. You’re seriously and completely doomed. And so are the rest of us.

  • Simon Phearson

    Ugh. That possibility hadn’t occurred to me, but it’s all too plausible.

  • com63

    It seems like the press is mostly worked up about the arrest and the handcuffs. You would think that they police could just give a desk appearance ticket and the driver would still eventually get charged with a misdemeanor and be fined without the need to be handcuffed and taken to the precinct.

  • com63

    Agreed. If they were really enforcing this law, it seems like they could charge dozens of drivers per week or even per day given how many thousands of injuries there are each year. The NYPD really is just not trying.
    I always chalk it up to ignorance of the “new” law. Stories like this one will bring more attention to the existence of the law.
    In an ideal work, you would have people going to local precinct meetings and asking for more enforcement of traffic laws protecting pedestrians, including this one.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    New York’s public service unions are an embarrassment to organized labor all over the country.

  • Guest

    “We must exercise extreme caution at intersections and on roadways.” Samuelsen says that like it’s a bad thing. When it is what conscientious drivers have been doing, and all of them should have been doing, all along. Does he not realize how dissonant his protestations must sound to crash victims?

  • Guest

    Maybe you’re right, but on the other hand it seems that aggressively arresting car drivers would actually be a much more effective way to create public backlash against the mayor. I don’t see a lot of people standing up to defend MTA bus drivers, other than the usual suspects. It does seem like the cops are trying to pick a fight with the MTA union for some reason.

  • J_12

    If anything, professional drivers such as bus drivers should be held to a higher standard than drivers of private cars. If you look at road use in terms of number of hours spent driving, professional drivers in commercial vehicles (buses, trucks, taxis) are the majority road users. Holding them to lower standards where safety is concerned is a good way to increase the average rate of collisions and injuries.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Yes! The threshold for having your commercial drivers’ licensed revoked should be much more strict than for private licenses.

  • Tyson White

    You may be right. But arresting a private car driver will not make headlines. Drivers aren’t organized like bus drivers. I bet the cop told the driver (before arresting him): Sorry, I don’t agree with this, but that $#%& mayor requires me to do this…
    Or, when ticketing a driver for disobeying sign: “Here’s a gift from DeBlasio”

  • Tyson White

    On the other hand, arresting the driver makes a splash and brings the issue to public debate. I think it’s a good thing that people talk about it. Ultimately they learn something new: Accidents don’t just “happen”. Someone is at fault.

  • Tyson White

    I’m only speculating. And of course it may be true for some cops, but not others. The NYC media always paints groups as one unit. Cops, bus drivers, bicyclists, etc. It’s foolish. Not all bus drivers are safe drivers. Not all cops will choke you to death, etc etc.

  • MatthewEH

    I disagree. Planners in Boston seem to be obsessed with this — not giving walk signals unless there’s no way that traffic could possibly cross an intersection — and it works only at a huge cost of convenience to pedestrians. And in NY? Fuhgeddaboudit. Pedestrians will cross when parallel traffic has the green light, regardless of what the pedestrian sign says.

  • jt

    There’s a bit of truth to this. I totally think the driver should be charged with a crime, but if the law says it’s a misdemeanor, then the arrest and handcuffs was grandstanding.

  • Andres Dee

    Considering the spiteful tweets from the transit union, remember when Transportation Alternatives and TWU were bestest friends, cooperating on a campaign billed as the “Rider Rebellion”? Whatever happened with that?

  • rational38

    That was really stupid. America’s great problem: under-crimnalization.

  • hhh

    Crippling a 15 yr old girl for life is SMALL STUFF? glad you aint in office

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