Rory Lancman Worried NYPD Charging Too Many Drivers for Injuring People
This is pretty rich. In a city where hundreds of people get hurt by drivers who fail to yield each month, City Council Member Rory Lancman is concerned that police are “overapplying” the new Right of Way Law, which has been used all of 20 times since August.
In a February 17 letter to NYPD traffic chief Thomas Chan [PDF], Lancman asked how police determine whether to file misdemeanor charges or issue a civil penalty under the new law, and how they are trained to make that call:
Clearly the failure to yield alone is insufficient to support a charge under the law unless the “failure to yield and/or physical injury” was “caused by the driver’s failure to exercise due care.”
As it happens, Bill de Blasio touched on this subject in his testimony to the State Senate last week. Here’s his explanation of how NYPD applies the “due care” standard — basically, if officers determine that the crash could have been avoided, they will file charges:
Senator, the law that was passed by the City Council, which I signed, makes clear that when an individual fails to yield to pedestrians where they should — the pedestrian has the walk sign and they’re crossing the street and there’s still a crash, and in this case, what the law dictates is, if there is serious injury or fatality and if the officers on the scene determine that it was an avoidable injury or fatality, they are obligated to pursue an arrest. If the officers determine that it was unavoidable, meaning something happened that no driver could have possibly foreseen or responded to in time, they have the option of giving a summons… If the officer believes it was 100 percent avoidable, that is an arrest situation.
Officers with the Collision Investigation Squad are trained to determine whether a driver should have avoided a crash. Only about 20 investigators work at CIS — not enough to handle all of the failure-to-yield collisions in the city. Last October, Chan told Streetsblog that NYPD is looking to train precinct cops how to enforce the new law as well, and that the department is being very deliberate about implementing a clear standard:
Right now, it’s running through the course of channels, the legal bureau within the police department. And then ultimately, we will touch base also with the DA’s offices, because again, we want to make sure that we get it out there, and we get it out there correctly, because it’s a very important law that will make an impact out there. Again, with 35,000 [police officers], we don’t want to get variations, different interpretations, and that’s part of why it’s important for us to make sure we get our people on board and get it done correctly.
Lancman, it should be noted, voted for the Right of Way Law. Now that the law is being enforced, we’re seeing how deeply the commitment to protect people with the right of way runs among the city’s lawmakers.