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Adriano Espaillat

Albany Bill Would Bar Police From Cuffing Bus Drivers Who Hit People

State lawmakers have introduced legislation that would prohibit police from detaining, but not charging, bus drivers who hit pedestrians and cyclists.

State Senators Adriano Espaillat, at mic, and Martin Malave Dilan, at left, at a Families for Safe Streets rally in Albany in 2014. Dilan and Espaillat have introduced a bill to prohibit police from arresting bus drivers suspected of committing misdemeanors in crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Brad Aaron
State Senators Adriano Espaillat, at mic, and Martin Malave Dilan, at left, at a Families for Safe Streets rally in Albany in 2014. Dilan and Espaillat have introduced a bill to prohibit police from handcuffing and detaining bus drivers suspected of committing misdemeanors in crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Brad Aaron
State Senators Adriano Espaillat, at mic, and Martin Malave Dilan, at left, at a Families for Safe Streets rally in Albany in 2014. Dilan and Espaillat have introduced a bill to prohibit police from arresting bus drivers suspected of committing misdemeanors in crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Brad Aaron

The bill appears intended to spare bus drivers from being handcuffed and taken into custody for violating the Right of Way Law without exempting them from the law altogether, as a City Council bill would do. The council bill, which currently has 25 sponsors, was introduced after the Transport Workers Union complained that bus drivers were being charged for injuring and killing people who were following traffic rules.

The proposed state legislation is sponsored by Walter T. Mosley and William Colton in the Assembly and Martin Dilan and Adriano Espaillat in the Senate. It would direct police officers to issue a desk appearance ticket when police have “reasonable cause to believe” a bus driver has committed a “traffic infraction or misdemeanor” in a crash involving a pedestrian or cyclist. As long as the bus driver has a valid license, remains at the scene, and cooperates with police, the bill says officers “shall not detain or otherwise prevent” the driver from leaving the scene after police complete an “immediate investigation.”

While the state bill wouldn't gut the Right of Way Law like the council bill would, there are several problems with it.

It would take away officers' discretion in determining whether a bus driver should be detained after a serious crash. It doesn't provide exceptions for officers to make arrests for suspected misdemeanors that are more serious than a Right of Way Law violation, such as reckless endangerment. And like the proposed City Council exemption, the state bill would create a separate standard under the law for bus drivers.

As we've said before, the Right of Way Law was adopted to address the very real problem of motorists, bus drivers included, not being held accountable for injuring and killing people. One reason a city law was necessary is that, according to NYPD's interpretation, state code made it difficult for police to charge a driver who harmed someone unless an officer personally witnessed a crash. This led to thousands of crashes every year, many of them resulting in life-altering injuries, that were not investigated by NYPD.

A goal of the Right of Way Law is to change driver behavior, leading to fewer deaths and injuries on NYC streets. But for it to work the way it should, the law has to be applied consistently. Carving out exemptions for a specific class of driver could set a dangerous precedent.

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