NYPD Isn’t Enforcing Mayor de Blasio’s Key Vision Zero Law

Within months of taking office, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law several bills intended to add teeth to his Vision Zero street safety initiative. In the year since taking effect, however, the most important of those laws was barely used by NYPD.

“If
If Mayor de Blasio is serious about Vision Zero, he will direct Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to apply the Right of Way Law as it was intended. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, made it a misdemeanor for motorists to harm people walking and biking with the right of way. It took effect last August.

The Right of Way Law was supposed to bring an end to the common scenario of reckless New York City motorists hurting and killing people without consequence. The key to the law is that ordinary precinct cops can apply it, not just the small number of specialists in the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad. NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law, but the department has applied it only a handful of times in the 14 months since it was enacted.

According to data provided by the mayor’s office, from August through December of 2014 NYPD made 15 arrests for Section 19-190 violations, resulting from 21 investigations. In addition, police made one arrest for reckless driving and issued one summons for careless driving.

So far this year, NYPD has arrested 20 drivers under the Right of Way Law, after 41 investigations. Police also issued seven careless driving summonses resulting from those investigations. Twelve investigations are ongoing, the mayor’s office said. In addition, 11 other drivers have been charged under a Right of Way Law provision that applies to failure-to-yield cases that don’t involve injury (more on that later).

The scale of enforcement remains far below the scale of damage caused by motorists who fail to yield.

From September 2014 through September 2015, drivers injured 11,109 people walking in NYC, and killed 140, according to DOT data. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths, according to DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that the vast majority of drivers who violate the Right of Way Law are not charged by NYPD.

Nor is NYPD increasing enforcement. Police averaged three Right of Way charges per month last year, compared to an average of two cases a month in 2015. This suggests that Right of Way investigations remain the province of the Collision Investigation Squad and are not being pursued by precinct cops.

In addition to the Right of Way Law, another key piece of Vision Zero legislation has not been used much. Cooper’s Law, named after 9-year-old Cooper Stock, gave the Taxi and Limousine Commission the power to suspend or revoke the TLC licenses of cab drivers convicted of a traffic violation or a crime following a crash that results in death or critical injury. It took effect last September.

As we’ve reported before, for the law to get dangerous cabbies off the streets, police first have to issue summonses or file charges. TLC license sanctions hinge on findings gleaned from NYPD crash reports.

From September 2014, when the law took effect, to June 2015, the TLC reviewed 30 crashes involving a TLC-licensed driver that resulted in critical injury or death, according to the latest available agency data. Of those, the TLC suspended the licenses of seven drivers. It’s possible that the number of crashes triggering a review under the law is under-reported, since TLC-licensed vehicles were involved in 31,110 total crashes during that time frame.

We asked the TLC what became of those seven suspended drivers and have yet to receive that information. Earlier this year, the TLC reinstated an Uber driver after his license was suspended for the January crash that killed Wesley Mensing and seriously injured Erin Sauchelli. It’s unknown whether the TLC has ever applied Cooper’s Law to permanently revoke the license of a cab driver who hurt or killed someone.

Mayor de Blasio and the City Council stepped up to adopt laws meant to make NYC streets safer, but it’s clear additional work is needed. For one thing, Cooper’s Law should be amended so that license sanctions can proceed based on TLC investigations alone, severing dependence on NYPD. As for the Right of Way Law, if de Blasio is serious about Vision Zero, he should hold Police Commissioner Bill Bratton accountable for NYPD’s failure to put it to use.

  • Boris

    There just was a rally against police brutality a few days ago. Were these concerns represented?

  • J

    Breaking: De Blasio a Weak Mayor with even Weaker Policy Agenda

  • bolwerk

    This should probably be blamed on de Blasio. He is deliberately refusing to use even the bully pulpit to make the police do their jobs.

    But the other thing is police are a terrible way to implement social policy, as 20 years of abject failure under Giuliani and Bloomberg should have taught us. Especially now, since two generations of authoritarian creep has turned the USA into a police state where thugs like Bratton get to dictate the agenda.

  • Zero Vision

    So long as he doesn’t ruffle too many political feathers, Mayor de Blasio is okay with a handful of dead New Yorkers. He’s made that abundantly clear.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    With this type of weak policing & leadership, the most effective way to keep reckless drivers off the road might wind up being to ask livable streets advocates to start slashing tires of known reckless drivers :-/

  • Mark Walker

    How does de Blasio respond to NYPD employees not doing their jobs? By hiring more of them and keeping an intransigent police commissioner in office. He does not even use the powers available to him. So ultimately he is the person responsible. At this point, the best carnage-cutting tools available are street redesign and an eventual Democratic primary challenger.

  • Reader

    Shorter question: what other laws that protect New Yorkers from death would Mayor de Blasio be okay with NYPD not enforcing?

  • This is a total (and not surprising) leadership failure on de Blasio’s part, but a failure on Ydanis Rodriguez and the City Council. Where are their oversight hearings on policing streets?

  • AlexWithAK

    He’s cowering before the police union. After the backlash he got last year for actually speaking up about police violence he’s made a point to grovel at their feet. Just look at this Twitter avatar right now. He wouldn’t dare suggest that the cops aren’t doing their jobs these days, even if it’s painfully obvious to the rest of us.

    Meanwhile, the cops and the TLC empathize more with the drivers who kill and maim than they do with the victims. Parish the thought of holding them accountable. And taking away a (deadly) TLC driver’s livelihood is just unthinkable. The people they run over are an acceptable casualty of keeping them employed.

  • bolwerk

    Police typically have authoritarian-submissive personalities. Probably he’d get what he wants out of them by firing a few who misbehave, which is not hard to find. They aren’t going to be empathetic, but they do want their paychecks.

    Of course, BdB shot himself in the foot early. He basically defended police brutality from the get-go with the beating of Kang Wong.

  • meelar2

    We need a new Commissioner who will take this seriously. I’d also like to see stats on the share of officers who don’t own cars; I suspect that it’s far lower than in the city overall, and that this skews their perspective significantly. More foot patrols and bike patrols, and fewer cops driving everywhere, would be a significant change that might do a lot to decrease police disrespecting pedestrians and cyclists, but it’ll need leadership that makes it a priority.

  • bolwerk

    What other ones are there? The only thing I can think of right now is gun running.

    Traffic enforcement is literally one of the few useful things the NYPD could do.

  • Reader

    Or think of it this way: imagine there was a rash of people dying from food poisoning in NYC restaurants. There’s no way city hall wouldn’t be out front, chastising DOH and committing more money to clean up kitchens. My guess is that if things didn’t change fast enough, the DOH commissioner would be out of a job.

    But traffic deaths? De Blasio doesn’t have the courage to ask Bratton to do something about them.

  • AlexWithAK

    This isn’t an excuse for BdB so much as an explanation, but the reason he or any other politician can afford to not make this a real priority is because the general public is willing to accept a certain number of traffic deaths. That’s the key difference between us and the Netherlands. While they were standing up and saying “ENOUGH!” back in the 1970s, Americans were content to keep car-ifying the country far and wide, even as deaths were soaring. And as long as we have leaders who are equally complacent and unwilling to rock the boat, nothing will change.

  • This doesn’t even need to be theoretical. Just think back to how de Blasio responded to the Legionnaire’s Disease scare.

  • bolwerk

    I guess, but agree with its methods or not DOH seems to at least do its job. This is a case of the administration refusing to oversee an agency it is supposed to direct.

  • ahwr

    Doesn’t NYC have a lower traffic related fatality rate than the Netherlands?

  • BBnet3000

    NYC is comparable to Amsterdam. I can’t find anything about other Dutch cities.

  • I know this is in jest, but I did such a thing this time last year and it didn’t end well. After being assaulted by the driver who’s tire I’d slashed, I was arrested, even though I had the driver on video threatening to run me over after no provocation from me, and after he’d been driving like a maniac. Wasnt my first encounter with this driver either, as I’d find out later by reviewing past footage.

    But I digress. Don’t slash tires.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    Spot on! Cut the city owned auto fleet by 50% right off the bat. Cops and Fire can’t take the subway to work for the night shift due to lack of service? That’s not a problem it is a solution! More transit!

  • Matthias

    Yes, vehicles should be used for emergency response, not for patrol.

  • chekpeds

    For institutional change, you have to write new job descriptions for NYPD : should traffic agents (A) wave car drivers as if they were VIPs in a motorcade , or (B) keep the intersections and crosswalks clear and wave pedestrians?

  • Mk Moore

    There have been many wake up calls for those of us who voted for a strong Mayor. I feel like I was very much deceived by the Mayor. He should be held accountable for his missed promises.

  • Mk Moore

    Agreed. We can only make change with our vote. We thought we already did that, but we were deceived into believing the Mayor would stand up.

  • Ask? Hell No, Force! The Mayor is supposed to be the boss. And Bratton practically begged for the job because Rudy fired him and he wanted another shot at proving he can run the country’s biggest police force.

    At best Bratton is a C-minus. Worse, his boss is either afraid of him or doesn’t know how to manage him. Which one do you think?

    Either way,Bratton does what he wants just as Kelly did. As long as they can fudge the numbers in their favor, de Blasio won’t say boo.

  • No it was mainly about #BlackLivesMatter and Quentin Tarantino pissing off the PBA.

  • Miles Bader

    Yes, cops in cars are necessary to have for various tasks, but it shouldn’t be the default method of patrolling.

    I wonder if something like Japan’s “Koban” system would work… basically little neighborhood police outposts, a small storefront (one or two rooms tops) with one or two cops on duty at a desk to interact with the public, and various other foot (and bicycle, scooter, motorcycle) cops using them as a neighborhood base. Usually located in busy pedestrian areas (transit stations, shopping areas etc). They’re far more approachable than a normal big police station (in Japan people stop in just to ask directions and other mundane questions), and you can have far more of them.

  • Jeff

    I agree, NYPD should enforce the law,
    Lets start with Jaywalkers

  • fdtutf

    Instead of starting with people whose behavior is almost entirely harmless, I suggest we start with people who are engaging in harmful behavior…and moreover, with those who cause the most harm.

    Those would be motorists.

  • Maggie

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