Working Families Party: Let’s Allow Bus Drivers to Run Over Working Families

The Working Families Party says it supports the City Council bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law, but its position is based on a misreading of the law and the premise that bus drivers, in the course of doing their jobs, should be allowed to strike people who have the right of way.

An MTA bus driver ran over 15-year-old Jiahuan Xu as she crossed a Brooklyn street in a crosswalk with the walk signal, causing severe injuries. The Working Families Party thinks the bus driver was the victim.
The Working Families Party thinks a misdemeanor charge was not warranted for the MTA bus driver who ran over 15-year-old Jiahuan Xu as she crossed a Brooklyn street in a crosswalk with the walk signal, causing severe injuries.

Last year, bus drivers killed eight people who were walking with the right of way. In a memo of support released Wednesday, the WFP claims that since bus drivers must negotiate “intersections teeming with pedestrians,” they should be excused for “accidents that are unrelated to reckless driver behavior.”

The WFP memo says a clause in the law meant to apply to drivers of emergency vehicles in emergency situations should also apply to bus drivers:

When the NYC Council created Vision Zero, it rightly wrote in an exception for drivers of municipal vehicles who, to fulfill their duties, are required to enter crosswalks where cyclists and pedestrian [sic] have the right of way. The exception does not apply if the driver acts recklessly.

The law was not designed for the purpose of punishing conscientious bus operators who are forced to operate repeatedly in dangerous circumstances. Therefore, New York Working Families rejects the notion that accidents not resulting from recklessness are criminal acts.

The law was designed to protect people crossing the street from motorist negligence, since violations of pedestrians’ right of way account for thousands of injuries and dozens of deaths in New York City every year. It’s clear that bus drivers were never intended to be exempt — if an MTA driver injures someone with the right of way after failing to exercise due care, a misdemeanor charge is warranted.

The Working Families Party and the Transport Workers Union are saying that bus drivers must injure people through outright recklessness, not negligence, to be charged. “The recklessness standard proposed for bus drivers by WFP and TWU is reserved for police involved in chases and others responding to emergencies,” said Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who specializes in traffic law. “The notion that bus drivers belong in the same category is misguided, to say the least.”

The Right of Way Law was adopted so NYPD could hold motorists accountable for causing injury and death in crashes that police didn’t personally witness. Charges are based on witness testimony, video footage, and other evidence of carelessness. The law was proposed in Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan, and the mayor’s office has defended it against attacks from the TWU and the Daily News, which ramped up after bus drivers were charged with misdemeanors for killing and maiming people.

The WFP memo pays lip service to crash victims and proposes a nebulous “review of all of the issues affecting bus mass transit and pedestrian accidents.” But the thrust of the WFP argument is that bus drivers have to run people over while on the job, and the rest of us just have to accept that.

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