Hsi-Pei Liao Tells Pete Donohue Why the Right-of-Way Law Matters

Daily News reporter Pete Donohue speaks with Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter was killed by a driver that failed to yield the right of way. Image: <a href="http://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/inside-city-hall/2015/03/4/transit-reporter---families-for-safe-streets--member-discuss-traffic-safety--enforcement-on-ich.html" target="_blank">NY1</a>
Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter was killed by a driver who failed to yield, speaks with Daily News reporter Pete Donohue and NY1’s Errol Louis. Image: NY1

In the skirmish over the Right-of-Way Law, which allows for misdemeanor charges when a driver strikes a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way, the rationale for enacting the law sometimes gets lost.

Last night on NY1, Inside City Hall host Errol Louis interviewed Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, who has taken up the cause of TWU Local 100’s opposition to the law, and Hsi-Pei Liao, who helped found Families For Safe Streets after his 3-year-old daughter Allison was killed in a Flushing crosswalk while she and her grandmother had the right of way.

“The Right-of-Way Law is because of situations like ours,” Liao said. The driver’s blood alcohol level was elevated but below the legal limit, so he got off with two summonses, one for failure to yield and another for failure to exercise due care. Both were dismissed by the DMV, which Liao and his wife learned about months later. Under the Right-of-Way Law, the driver who killed Allison would likely have faced consequences.

“To have this law implemented is to make sure that they understand this is their responsibility. This is what they have done,” Liao said. “The police, the DA, they never once mentioned that our daughter’s right of way was taken… It was like, ‘It’s an accident, sorry. I can go home now.’ And we want more answers than just that.”

Louis said that many advocates prefer the word “crash” instead of “accident,” and noted that Donohue’s coverage “seemed like a visceral response” to the issue.

“In their view, there’s no such thing as an accident anymore. It’s like everything is criminal,” Donohue said. “The idea of criminalizing what is an accident with no intent and no obvious recklessness and no speeding, it did strike a nerve with me.”

Liao responded that we shouldn’t be so quick to write off crashes like the one that killed his daughter as mere accidents. “When your tire explodes, that’s an accident. When you skid on black ice, that’s an accident,” he said. “But for someone that has total control of his vehicle and basically runs into somebody, there’s got to be some kind of negligence behind this.”

  • cmu

    >The idea of criminalizing what is an accident with no intent and no obvious recklessness and no speeding

    What bullshit. So how is not a ‘criminal’ act to KILL a pedestrian who has the right-of-way, with a multi-ton vehicle ?! Why should ‘intent’ be an issue?…if you have a fight with someone, with no intent to kill, but you do, isn’t that manslaughter?

    This new law is way too weak, it should not be a misdemeanor if you hit someone, it should be a felony.

  • Outer Boro Motorist

    F*ck Pete Donohue. Seriously.

    “In their view, there’s no such thing as an accident anymore. It’s like everything is criminal,”

    No, Pete. It’s simply called a “crash” or “collision” until we know for sure that there was no recklessness, negligence or criminal behavior by the driver who caused the injury or fatality. And only when we know all of the facts might we then be able to determine that it was, indeed, an “accident.”

    Here’s the thing, Pete: Our way of describing these situations is objective, neutral and fact-based. Your way of describing these situations exonerates the perpetrator and blames the victim before the facts are even known.

  • c2check

    Even what Mr Liao calls accidents are questionable—you should have fewer problems if you regularly check and property maintain your tires, and if there could be icy conditions, drive more cautiously. That’s not to say an “accident” is not somehow possible, of course, but I think they are few.

    Exercising due care might mean your trip takes longer. Deal with it, people.

  • kevd

    ‘“When your tire explodes, that’s an accident. When you skid on black ice, that’s an accident,” he said. “But for someone that has total control of his vehicle and basically runs into somebody, there’s got to be some kind of negligence behind this.’

    Great quote.

  • Parent

    “Not to diminish, you know, the tragedy and the loss of life…”

    Man, Pete Donohue just looks like a jackass here. He just stutters and fails to find the words to explain his morally bankrupt position. The lip service he paid to the victim in his columns he now does on TV. This is a priceless and perhaps seminal Vision Zero moment.

    Excellent job by Mr. Liao in schooling this so-called journalist in what really matters: our children, our health, and our lives.

  • Kevin Love

    Law enforcement seems to have no problem with charging people who kill or injure due to accidental discharge of firearms.

    Criminal negligence means that whether the weapon is a gun or a car the person in control of it is responsible for the harm it does.

  • Larry Littlefield

    In Chicago, the left wing, union-backed candidate for Mayor is promising to eliminate speed cameras. All of them.


    Which pretty much says it all about “left wing” and “union” these days.


  • Glenn

    This is a turning point

  • Eric McClure

    You know, I just don’t see a parent or a child or a spouse taking comfort in the fact that the driver who killed or maimed his or her loved one belongs to a union. Right of way is right of way.

  • Rabi

    Pete, there’s nothing “respectful” about sitting next to a man who lost his daughter to traffic violence and defending your idiotic column.

  • armyvet00

    This whole “crash” versus “accident” issue is total BS on the part of Donohue. In fact is it the exact opposite of what he claims!

    Accident denotes a lack of responsibility or culpability. Crash on the other hand is neutral, it simply describes the physical actions that happened without commenting AT ALL on the moral or criminal culpability of the actors involved.

  • armyvet00

    The emphasis on moral intent a huge problem with NY law- and the lack of will from lawmakers, and in a smaller way prosecutors, to change the law. I think we can all imagine there are true accidents and true evil intent- but the majority is somewhere in between where laziness leads a person to not exercise due care or make smart choices which lead to the death of an innocent bystander. Those majority are largely ignored under our law in a way that provides no incentive for drivers to stop being lazy drivers and inept caretakers of their vehicles. We can’t rely on civil suits to correct this problem.

  • Needs

    That’s in the context, however, of opposing a political regime where there’s a pretty compelling case that municipal government has allowed the private companies that run the speed cameras to use them as a profit making device. See here… http://inthesetimes.com/article/17533/how_to_sell_off_a_city

  • D’BlahZero

    Agreed. If you were driving on Bridgestone/Firestones in 1998 and your tire exploded it would have been an “accident” for the driver (though not for Bridgestone). Icy conditions should have to exist in circumstances a reasonable and cautions driver would not have expected – a sunny afternoon with 40+° temps – in order for them to lead to “accidental” loss of control. The drivers I saw skidding around during/after this past snow storm were not “accidentally” losing control of their vehicles; they and/or their equipment were not up for driving in the conditions.

  • Vinstar

    Misdemanor? For killing some one who has the right of way? Negligent homicide at the least and a lengthy prison sentence would be far more appropriate. This wasn’t a minor incident someone died as a result of someone else’s total negligence. It seems like when you’re behind the wheel you can get away with anything that has got to end.

  • Joe R.

    Minor point — sometimes tires explode when running over road debris which isn’t visible to the driver. Granted, this doesn’t occur often but it’s probably one of the very few scenarios which are really an “accident”, not something caused by either driver error or poor maintenance.

    Tires suddenly going flat are far more common (and a far bigger hazard, at least to the rider) on a bicycle. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been using airless tires since 2009. Airless tires will eventually be mainstream for cars as well.

  • Tyson White

    Errol Lewis says “…making failure to yield a misdemeanor, instead of a violation…”

    That’s not true. A misdemeanor is not for failure to yield, but for failure to yield and HITTING a pedestrian/bicyclist. Failure to yield is still just a violation.

    P.S. Hsi-Pei Lao is an excellent spokesperson for VisionZero on TV.