Advocates, Mayor de Blasio Fend Off TWU Attack on Traffic Safety Laws

If you walk or bike in New York City, you can thank Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping a Transport Workers Union attempt to weaken traffic safety laws.

A bill from State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley would have prohibited police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. It would have also stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment, and according to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases.

The bill was intended to keep bus drivers from being handcuffed after injuring or killing someone in violation of the city’s Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year. To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015.

TA staff and members of Families for Safe Streets, who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, traveled to Albany to convince legislators to oppose the bill. Mayor de Blasio and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed memos of opposition.

Dilan and Mosley made clear that their legislation was introduced out of fealty to the TWU, which believes MTA bus drivers should not be held to the same legal standards as other motorists. The bill overwhelmingly passed in the Senate, where some lawmakers apparently didn’t know what they were voting for.

But the TWU bill didn’t come to a vote in the Assembly. Advocates spent the last hours of the session speaking with lawmakers and encouraging constituents to contact their representatives. In the Democrat-controlled Assembly, de Blasio’s ties to leadership likely also played a critical role.

A bill to exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way Law altogether is still pending in the City Council, with 25 sponsors. Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez opposes the bill in favor of improvements to street design, bus design, and bus routing to reduce bus driver crashes. Mayor de Blasio has said repeatedly that the Right of Way Law should be left alone.

It’s time to focus on improving vehicle design and transit routes to make buses safer, instead of weakening traffic laws.

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