Ben Kallos Won’t Talk About Why He Wants to Gut the Right of Way Law

Ben Kallos. Photo: NYC Council
You can’t support Vision Zero, as Ben Kallos says he does, while gutting the laws behind it. Photo: NYC Council

On October 8, 2014, the driver of a Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation bus hit cyclist Anna Maria Moström while making a left turn. Moström was mortally injured. Two days later, a Coca-Cola truck driver hit an unidentified 86-year-old man in a crosswalk while turning from E. 96th Street onto Third Avenue. The senior died from his injuries. Both drivers reportedly failed to yield.

This is the type of collision the Right of Way Law is intended to prevent. But a group of City Council members wants to weaken the law by creating an exemption for MTA bus drivers. One of them is Ben Kallos, who represents the district where Anna Maria Moström and the Upper East Side senior were killed.

We attempted to contact Kallos about the Right of Way Law exemption bill. Last week, his office said they would call on Monday. The phone call never came and Streetsblog’s follow-up messages went unreturned.

The Right of Way Law is a key component of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Before its adoption, all NYPD crash investigations were handled by the Collision Investigation Squad, a unit of around 20 detectives who work a few hundred cases a year. The Right of Way Law gives precinct officers a mechanism to hold drivers accountable in thousands of crashes that would not otherwise be investigated.

These are not hypothetical scenarios. In the past, New York City drivers were rarely penalized for killing and injuring people, even if they broke the law. This included MTA bus drivers, who in 2014 alone killed eight pedestrians while making turns.

The Right of Way Law is meant to deter reckless driving by showing motorists that there are consequences for harming people who are following all the rules. Kallos says he supports Vision Zero, but how does he square that with exemptions to the Right of Way Law? Does he think anyone should be allowed to hit people in crosswalks?

The public should know why Kallos wants to undermine this law, but apparently he doesn’t want to talk about it.

  • Voter

    It’s shameful, but simple:

    1. Ben Kallos was endorsed by the TWU.

    https://kallosforcouncil.com/endorsement/transit-workers-union-twu-local-100

    2. Dead pedestrians don’t make endorsements.

    3. Ben Kallos cares more about getting reelected than dead pedestrians.

    What else can anyone surmise?

  • I don’t think Kallos is trying to gut the law. But I do think that the CMs who are endorsing this legislation don’t realize that they are kicking off a process where exactly that would happen.

    I was told by a source in another CM’s office that the thinking behind the bill is that the MTA has a very rigorous review process following every collision incident involving a vehicle driver and a bystander – that process supersedes, in scope, the NYPD process for Right-Of-Way investigations. The belief is that the MTA process is sufficient to hold drivers accountable, including the pressing of charges.

    However, putting aside the fact that these MTA investigations are not conducted in public… This “exception” to the ROW law is so broad that it essentially decriminalizes the act of injuring a pedestrian with a bus. So that part of it is bad. But the other thing is that it is an exception that could be applied to other labor interest groups. Primarily, DoS, FDNY and NYPD would ask for it right away. But why stop there? DOT, DEP have vehicles. The USPS is a quasi-governmental agency with postal inspectors who have vehicles. And once you give it to the postal inspectors, why not give it to the delivery trucks? And then the Teamsters will push for UPS to have it. Then the taxicab lobby would push for it. Literally everyone who drives for a living would somehow be in line for an “exception” here, some sooner than others.

    The scope of this Intro is limited to just the bus drivers but it has the potential to kick off many cascades of requests for exceptions, many of which are only loosely reasoned to this particular request.

    All of this ignores a simple fact: there should be no reason for a driver to hit a pedestrian with the right-of-way, and if a driver does hit a pedestrian in an avoidable collision, it should not be chalked up to an “accident”. That reasoning is a lot simpler and a lot more powerful than the reasoning being used to justify the Intro.

    Unfortunately, the Intro has traction because of a very large gray area that exists in public perception between what is an “avoidable collision” and what is unavoidable and completely accidental. And every day where we continue to have a roadway environment where a 90mph flipped-vehicle collision is considered routine and not worthy of a serious inquiry, that gray area will continue to persist.

  • Alex

    Really great analysis of this situation, Brian. The myopic council members are pandering, both to the union and to windshield perspective constituents without any deeper thought of how their actions could unfold.

    Anyone have any idea how many CMs have stepped forward in supporting this nonsense?

  • Voter
  • Alex

    Great resource, thanks for sharing.

    So just under half. I’m sure they’re working on other members to sign on, but it seems unlikely they’d be able to mount a 2/3 majority to override a veto by the Mayor. Here’s hoping he actually has the fortitude to do that.

  • bggb
  • KillMoto

    Irony. His last name is pronounced “callous”, right?

  • Tyson White

    I think the gray area in public perception exists BECAUSE we never had a right of way law. BECAUSE the law said that accidents are just accidents. This law is here to change that perception!

  • But this procession of events shows that sometimes you can’t just change policy and expect the public to go along with it. Bizarrely, the ROW law is not inspiring a new-found sense of civic duty among the general public; rather, it’s inflamed their distrust of government, prompting many to think that this is just some sort of GOTCHA tactic to criminalize driving (which is already miserable enough for the people who attempt to drive daily through high-density neighborhoods). The immediate reaction of most people who heard about TWU’s complaints was to empathize with the bus drivers being led away in cuffs, not to think of the horror of someone under the bus (must have been their fault anyway, they were texting, right?).

    Kallos should be out there talking about that misplaced empathy, instead of pandering to a union that exists to only improve the work experience of its members. This setup shows why our current political environment & campaign finance model sucks.

  • Alex

    I urge everyone to look at the link below and see if your council rep is on there. If they are, please contact them and tell them to drop support of this legislation. I wrote Kallos but I do not live in his district. (My rep supports Right of Way.) Of course hearing from constituents in their own districts would go a lot further in the eyes of these council members.

    http://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=2170512&GUID=B617857C-90BA-44D1-9C8F-5C640109767C&Options=ID|Text|&Search=Section+19-190#

  • dporpentine

    All fine and well, but everything you wrote is mind reading as far as this guy’s particular position.

    If Kallos is doing this for defensible reasons, he should be ready to defend himself. Otherwise, he’s just a coward–a coward eager to hand a get out of jail free card to people who injure and kill other people.

  • Andrew

    A lot of drivers seem to be under the impression that a green light simply means “go,” even when turning, and that any pedestrian in their way must be doing something wrong. Even those drivers who wait for pedestrians may be under the impression that they’re doing it as a courtesy.

    The law, of course, says just the opposite: that the pedestrians are crossing precisely the way pedestrians are supposed to cross, while drivers are obligated to wait for those pedestrians to proceed first.

    There should probably be an educational component to go along with the enforcement, and there certainly should be enforcement of failure-to-yield even when it doesn’t lead to death or injury, but this law is a no-brainer regardless.

  • Tyson White

    Enforcement is the best education.

  • Andrew

    I won’t argue with you there, but only if the enforcement is consistent and thorough. One or two arrests per month for striking pedestrians isn’t going to accomplish much, I’m afraid. Thousands of tickets per day per precinct to drivers who fail to yield, even if they don’t come in direct contact with a pedestrian, would get the point across quite well.

  • Tyson White

    I agree that fines BEFORE something bad happens are much more effective than arrests when something bad happens. Because no one thinks THEIR bad driving will hurt anyone until it’s too late.

  • Andrew

    And when something bad does happen, they see it as an innocent accident rather than as a result of how they choose to drive. Which I think largely explains the backlash we’re seeing now.

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