Hey Daily News: NYC Pedestrians Are Safer With Right of Way Law
In its latest attack on efforts to make New York City streets safer for everyone who walks, bikes, and drives, the Daily News editorial board says the Right of Way Law isn’t working. But the available evidence suggests NYC streets are safer since the law took effect.
Basically, the Daily News believes that, since the law has been applied only a few dozen times since it took effect last August, the city should abandon it. The piece also claims the Right of Way Law has had little discernible effect on pedestrian safety, “with the death toll among pedestrians barely budging in the nearly one year since the Vision Zero law took effect,” though crash data says otherwise.
In the nine months after the Right of Way Law took effect, from September 2014 to May 2015 (the last month for which official data is available), New York City drivers killed 95 pedestrians, according to NYPD. From September 2013 to May 2014, motorists killed 121 pedestrians. That’s a 21 percent decline.
To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t killed anyone in a crosswalk in 2015. There were eight such deaths last year.
Injuries are a more reliable metric than fatalities, since they’re less prone to random variation. NYPD data indicate that drivers injured 7,869 pedestrians in the nine months after the Right of Way Law took effect, compared to 8,925 pedestrian victims during the same period a year prior — a drop of almost 12 percent.
The Daily News correctly points out that MTA bus drivers make up a large percentage of motorists charged under the Right of Way Law, while “most drivers who maim pedestrians go though [sic] no investigation to even determine who was at fault.” But this points to a lack of enforcement, not a problem with the law itself. Is the Daily News solution to go back to having fewer drivers investigated for maiming pedestrians?
“And so the cases crumble,” the editorial says. “Of the four drivers whose prosecutions by the Manhattan DA have concluded so far, all pleaded to violations of state traffic laws. Two additionally pleaded to the lowest city charge, with a $50 fine.”
The success of the Right of Way Law doesn’t hinge on putting drivers in jail. The goal is to compel police and prosecutors to investigate crashes that traditionally got no attention, and to hold motorists to a measure of accountability for injuring and killing people who were following traffic rules. Daily News editorial writers used to complain that the Right of Way Law was overly punitive. Now they think it’s too weak to mean anything.
NYPD has to re-orient itself to take crash investigations seriously and enable precinct cops to handle them. This won’t happen overnight. Drunk driving deaths were once considered inevitable, but fatalities declined as new laws took hold and public attitudes shifted.
It’s hard to say how much the Right of Way Law has factored into recent declines in injuries and deaths. Street redesigns and speed cameras likely play a role as well. But with both pedestrian fatalities and injuries trending downward, there is no justification for giving up on the law.