New Families For Safe Streets Campaign Defends Right of Way Law

fss1Families 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.”

  • J

    TWU is disgusting. Arguing that injuring and killing humans who are obeying the law is part of their jobs, is absolutely ludicrous.

  • HamTech87

    The TWU can’t get the MTA to modify timetables and routes to make them safer? Shouldn’t THAT be their ask?

  • Joe R.

    Regarding modifying timetables, I think part of the problem there is if you put in too much slack time to account for delays there will be many times the drivers will have to hold a bus at an intermediate stop because they can’t run hot (i.e. ahead of schedule). That will result in passengers complaining.

    If anything, this just underscores the need for more bus lanes, traffic signal priority for buses, and maybe also the ability to preempt signals when turning. Those are things which would help the bus riding public as well.

  • JudenChino

    Jesus Christ, how fucking ridiculous are these unions. Strike all day for benefits, retirement all that shit. Go for it. I’ll still bike to work when you guys strike and y’all have all my support. But for fucks sake, it’s the mildest of misdemeanors, that only apply, if you fucking run someone over in a fucking crosswalk. And these god damn pols are buying it? Or rather, accepting it because they don’t want shit from TWU. But seriously, fuck these cowards.

    Is this what they use their political capital for? And for fucks sake, what political capital they do have! They could close the hole in the damn Capital Plan if they wanted.

  • BBnet3000

    Serious question: What proportion of these charges are against bus drivers? Is this proportionate to the amount of offenses committed?

    TWU may have a point without realizing it: if the NYPD are ignoring the behavior of people driving private vehicles this law is not succeeding.

  • Reader

    TWU is TWU. What’s worse are the so-called “progressive” City Council members who’ve signed onto the bill to amend the ROW law. Ben Kallos? Laurie Cumbo? Seriously? Craven and disgusting.

  • Jesse

    I think that that is the case actually. I think that charges for bus drivers are disproportionately high. But who’s to say this isn’t a cynical attempt on the part of the NYPD to create public outrage and damage the law? The only reason I have to doubt that that might be the case is it’s just too clever for the NYPD.

  • Brad Aaron

    If NYPD is charging bus drivers disproportionately, the problem is NYPD, not the law.

    Besides, TWU isn’t arguing that the law should be applied equally. In fact they want the opposite.

  • multimodal

    I can see why the TWU is trying to frame the battle with Paul Steely White and TA, because they are actually going to lose to Families for Safe Streets.

  • multimodal

    I agree with this; it did seem like, right after the law went into effect, there were lots of ROW cases that didn’t result in charges, and then a whole spate involving bus drivers.

    Also I understand it’s SOP but I do think the cuffing is unnecessary, especially after the trauma of hitting someone, however much at fault the bus driver was.

  • djx

    I hate to say it, but you might be onto something.

  • djx

    Well said. I’m fully on board supporting this union getting better pay and work conditions. But trying to exempt themselves from punishment for hurting/killing people who have the right of way. Horrendous.

  • Kevin Love

    “The city chooses to arrest bus drivers, no matter how safely they were operating.”

    What kind of alternative universe of Orwellian double-think is inhabited by anyone who would say that kind of garbage? Someone who just killed or injured a pedestrian with the right of way is NOT operating safely.

  • This is what’s most frustrating about their arguments. They seem to believe that it is expected that in the normal course of operation, bus drivers will kill someone who has the right of way. If your normal operating procedure is to kill people who have the right of way, your operating procedure needs revising.

  • dporpentine

    I’d just like to add a little shout out to the Working Families Party, whose support for bus drivers having the freedom to kill is cited in the interminable text of that TWU 100 poster.

    This is now what I think of when I think of Working Families: they’re ready to shrug off dismemberment and death if it means not hurting union fee-fees.

    I had criticisms of them before this (Cuomo!). But now they might as well put Lyndon LaRouche on the ballot. I’ll never get near them again.

  • D’BlahZero

    I don’t think NYPD is ‘above’ such things, but what you’re suggesting would require a ‘vast conspiracy’. Conspiracies by their very nature cannot be vast.

    This isn’t like a work slowdown, which can be ‘coordinated’ due to the deeply rooted culture of NYPD and it’s unions. Something as nuanced as opposition to a new law and as tactical as targeting another union with the intend of evoking a specific response is too complex to involve the various officers involved in the recent arrests of bus drivers.

    There must by something else systemic at play: Injuries caused by buses are profound. Buses are full of witnesses unlike personal SUVs. etc.

    It’s most likely some synergy of factors. It does warrant analysis, though.

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