Senate Passes Bill to Prevent Arrests of Bus and Taxi Drivers Who Kill

This afternoon, the New York State Senate passed a bill to provide a broad exemption from certain traffic laws for a large class of professional drivers. If the bill is enacted, police will not be able to detain any bus, taxi, or livery driver who strikes a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way. These drivers would also not be held at the scene for committing reckless endangerment, assault, or other violations that are outside the scope of the state vehicle and traffic law.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, passed in a 54-6 vote. Thomas Croci, John DeFrancisco, Kemp Hannon, Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger, and Daniel Squadron voted against the bill. It now heads to the Assembly, where it is sponsored by Walter T. Mosley and 17 other legislators. Transportation Alternatives has launched a petition to Assembly Members to stop the bill.

The bill restricts officers who respond to crashes between “omnibus operators” — that includes bus drivers, taxi drivers, and livery drivers — and a pedestrian or cyclist. Police would no longer be able to detain the driver at the scene. So long as the driver has a valid license, remains at the scene, is not suspected of being drunk or high, and cooperates with police, law enforcement is only allowed to issue a desk appearance ticket.

TWU Local 100 pushed for the bill in Albany, selling legislators on the idea of exempting MTA bus drivers from the city’s Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor to injure or kill people with the right of way.

As drafted, the bill carves out a far broader exemption, not only for other drivers, but also for other violations. Mayor de Blasio, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Families For Safe Streets, and TA oppose the bill. In a memo to legislators, TA and FSS note:

The bill would create a special treatment for a certain set of drivers, mandating different standards for police practices and how the rules of the road are applied. The bill attempts to micro-manage and hamstring the police in an area where police officers must have some level of discretion. Furthermore, the special treatment it seeks does not include an exception for suspected crimes that include more serious degrees of culpability. A police officer could be forced to provide this special treatment even for a reckless or intentionally violent act by a driver behind the wheel.

The bottom line: Anyone who is paid to drive other people won’t face the same consequences as other drivers for behavior that harms pedestrians or cyclists.

Members of TWU Local 100 watched the vote in the Senate gallery and cheered after the bill’s passage. During remarks on the floor before the vote, many senators were proud to stand with the union, but their words betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding of both the Right of Way Law and the bill up for a vote.

“You can’t criminalize an accident. An accident is an accident. And no one should be fearful of being arrested on their job for an accident,” said Sen. Jesse Hamilton of Brooklyn, who said his brother-in-law is a bus operator. “If you’re on the job and you’re not drinking, you’re not impaired by any other influence, you shouldn’t be arrested.”

“It’s wrong that we’re treating union bus drivers differently than we’re treating other drivers in the state of New York,” said Sen. Marc Panepinto, who represents the Buffalo area.

“People levy all kinds of insults at our bus operators,” said Sen. Diane Savino of Staten Island. “But this is one insult too many, to expect them to be held to a higher standard than the general public.”

She then voted to carve out an exception in the law so that bus operators are no longer held to the same standard as the general public.

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