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Pedestrian safety

New Families For Safe Streets Campaign Defends Right of Way Law

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Families For Safe Streets released videos and posters this morning defending the Right of Way Law, in response to a campaign by Transport Workers Union Local 100, which wants MTA bus drivers exempted from the law.

The Right of Way Law, passed unanimously by the City Council and signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio last June, allows for low-level misdemeanor charges against drivers who injure or kill people who are walking or biking with the right of way. If found guilty, the driver can be punished with a fine or jail time, though in practice, unclassified misdemeanors are often pled down to a traffic violation.

A bill from Council Member I. Daneek Miller to amend the law and exempt MTA bus operators has support from 25 of the City Council's 51 members. There is also a bill in Albany that would prevent police from detaining bus operators, though other drivers could still be arrested.

Before the Right of Way Law, with a tiny number of exceptions, drivers who were sober and stayed on the scene did not receive as much as a careless driving ticket for injuring or killing someone. When drivers were cited, the state Department of Motor Vehicles sometimes dismissed the tickets.

The Right of Way Law addresses this problem by allowing police to file charges against drivers who break the law and run people over. MTA bus drivers struck and killed nine pedestrians last year. In eight of those cases, the pedestrian had the right of way.

The posters and videos include Amy Tam-Liao and H.P. Liao, who lost their daughter Allison; Debbie and Harold Kahn, who lost their son Seth; Judy Kottick and Ken Bandes, who lost their daughter Ella; and Dulcie Canton, who suffered serious injuries after a driver rammed her from behind and kept going. Ella Bandes and Seth Kottick were both killed by turning MTA bus drivers who failed to yield the right of way.

"Transport unions claim that bus operators can’t do their jobs without occasionally hitting pedestrians, because of blind spots and other vehicle design flaws," the press release says, referring to recent claims by TWU and the Amalgamated Transit Union. "While Families for Safe Streets supports the unions’ call for the MTA to pursue technical solutions to safety problems, the focus must remain on driver accountability. Every driver has to follow the law."

The Families For Safe Streets campaign has a web site with an petition calling on the City Council to preserve the law as it was adopted.

TWU Local 100 has launched its own PR campaign, running ads in The Chief, City and State, and weekly papers in Manhattan and the Bronx. Transportation Alternatives says the Families for Streets posters are not running in paid media "at this point."

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