One Year Later, Bratton’s NYPD Rarely Enforcing Key Vision Zero Law

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it a year after it took effect.

Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Right of Way Law, also known as code Section 19-190, which made it a misdemeanor for motorists in New York City to harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way.

The law is a legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. It was supposed to put an end to the days when motorists who failed to yield could injure people without facing any consequences. But one year in, that goal is still a long way off, with NYPD rarely enforcing the new law.

According to a New York Times story published in June, NYPD charged “at least 31” drivers in the 10 months after the law took effect. During that same period, New York City motorists injured 11,606 pedestrians and cyclists, and killed 118. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths in New York City, according to NYC DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that most drivers who violate the law are not cited by NYPD. (We asked the mayor’s office for current data on Right of Way Law charges. We’ll post it if we get it.)

Last October, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law. This would allow the department to apply the law in collisions not deemed serious enough to warrant attention from the Collision Investigation Squad, a small, specialized unit that works a few hundred crashes per year, almost all of them fatalities. But with only a few dozen cases brought by NYPD since the law took effect, most motorists who injure and kill rule-abiding New Yorkers continue to do so with impunity.

Given the high profile of some Right of Way cases brought by police and prosecutors, it’s possible the law may be having a deterrent effect anyway. NYPD charged several MTA bus drivers for injuring or killing people in crosswalks — cases that got a lot of publicity when the Transport Workers Union called for bus drivers to be exempt from the law. While MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, to this point no such crashes have occurred in 2015.

In the 11 months after the Right of Way Law took effect — September 2014 through July 2015 — New York City motorists injured 9,334 people walking and killed 112, according to NYPD data. In the same time frame one year prior — September 2013 through July 2014 — drivers injured 10,658 pedestrians, and killed 141. Those figures represent a 12 percent decline in pedestrian injuries year to year, and a 20 percent drop in deaths.

It’s difficult to say to what extent the Right of Way Law has factored into declines in injuries and fatalities. Street redesigns, traffic safety cameras, and stepped-up NYPD enforcement of other serious traffic violations are part of the Vision Zero program as well. But the law gives NYPD the means to hold drivers accountable, to some extent, for injuring and killing people who were following traffic rules. Ideally, police would apply the law consistently to achieve a strong deterrent effect.

This is why it’s crucial to beat back attacks on the law. Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor de Blasio succeeded in fending off a TWU attempt — abetted by the Daily News — to weaken the law in the state legislature, but there is little doubt TWU will try again next year. In the meantime, a TWU-backed City Council bill to exempt bus drivers has support from 24 council reps, most of whom helped pass the Right of Way Law. A second council bill that would kneecap NYPD crash investigations by creating loopholes for motorists who hurt and kill people was introduced last June.

If NYPD enforced the Right of Way Law as intended and achieved a more demonstrable impact on street safety, the reduction in injuries and deaths could help turn back the attacks on the law. It’s understandable that the department would need time to train officers to apply the law, but since it’s a matter of life and death, a year should be more than enough.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    After Bratton’s comments last Thursday regarding ripping up Times Square; One can only conclude Bratton Hates New York and all New Yorkers.

    Bratton was forcefully advocating the killing and maim’g of thousands of Innocent New Yorkers.

  • Mark Walker

    Broken windows, bad. Broken knees, just fine. Bratton’s plaza comments show just how lazy and out of touch he is. No need to wait till the end of the mayor’s first (?) term. Retire him now.

  • WalkingNPR

    Oh geez, I somehow missed the Lancman bill when it was introduced. So it would ” require NYPD to consider “visibility, illumination, weather conditions, roadway conditions, roadway design, [and] faulty vehicular equipment or design” when determining whether to charge motorists who injure or kill people who are walking or biking with the right of way.” Sorry, Lancman, those factors are for motorists to consider BEFORE hitting pedestrians, not for police to consider afterwards.

    Sounds like they’re trying to throw “right of way” in the trash heap with “Vision Zero” as terms that have no meaning in this town.

  • In other words, pedestrians only have the right of way when drivers see them. Ha.

  • Bahij

    Bratton has been a disaster for NYC. De Blasio needs to recognize this and remove him from office in favor of a replacement that actually supports his administration’s purported agenda.

  • Jake S

    I really don’t get this. Do these people actively want to see pedestrians run over?I guess it’s a philosophy of prioritizing “traffic flow” above all else.

  • Bolwerk

    The first month set the tone for de Blasio: defending the NYPD’s beating of an elderly man who didn’t even know English and couldn’t understand instructions.

    Bill “at least I’m not Christine Quinn” de Blasio, progressive friend to the unwashed masses. I still want to know why no one in the progressive media demanded to know who his police commissioner was going to be before we were supposed to throw our votes at him. If conservatives are the people too dumb to think three-dimensionally, many progressives are too dumb to think four-dimensionally. And then we wonder why our politics are perpetually dysfunctional.

  • Bolwerk

    His union probably appreciates the extra work. Seriously. Near record police force size in spite of record low crime.

  • Michael

    Not that I really believe it, but I’m sure he would argue that it is because of, not in spite of

  • Mark Walker

    And drivers see them only when they look for them.

  • chekpeds

    It’s all about numbers: each precinct reports on what nypd calls ” major crimes” which include car theft, but does not include killing pedestrians…
    19-190 must become part of major crimes for a larger culture change at Nypd .

  • Tyson White

    Now that the amendment sought by the TWU failed, the whole purpose of enforcing the law (primarily against bus drivers to spark their opposition to the law) is no longer there.

  • Tyson White

    When over 10,000 pedestrians are hit, the idea of charging so many drivers under the law is daunting. Just like it was with the number of murders, rapes, robberies and assaults in the 1980’s when police could barely fill out reports for each of those.

    Perhaps Bratton should take a page from his own book and enforce a “broken windshield” policy against motorists who disobey smaller infractions (like blocking crosswalks at red lights and honking illegally) and the bigger problems will go away.

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