New Pedestrian Law Will Expand Right of Way And Help Hold Guilty Drivers Accountable

Pedestrians crossing with the right of way

The New York City Council unanimously passed a bill on Wednesday, Sept. 14 that will expand pedestrians’ right of way and close a critical loophole in bringing faulty drivers to justice.

The new bill, called Intro 0997-A, gives pedestrians the right of way to cross when a countdown timer is in progress or a red hand is flashing. According to the current law, which was made before countdown timers came into use, pedestrians have the legal right of way only during the steady walking symbol.

Before 2014, hitting a pedestrian with right of way would only result in a traffic infraction, meaning that the consequences for seriously injuring a pedestrian, even fatally, were the same as that of running a stop sign. Then in August 2014, as part of Vision Zero, the Right-of-Way law or section 19–190 was passed making it a misdemeanor or criminal offense to hit a pedestrian with the right of way. Under section 19–190, a guilty driver would face a penalty up to $250 and/or up to one month in jail.

However, the legal definition of what indicates a pedestrian’s right of way often made it difficult to enforce section 19–190. Even if the police knew that the driver was at fault and had hit a pedestrian, they couldn’t charge the driver for misdemeanor.

The new bill, which was introduced by Public Advocate Letitia James in February 2015, aims to close this loophole by legalizing what is already common sense on the streets.

“Nearly every day, someone is injured or killed crossing our streets and it is past time we update our laws to adequately protect pedestrians,” said PA Letitia James in a statement provided by her Office.

The bill is currently waiting to be signed by the Mayor and can take up to 90 days after that to come into effect.

According to NYPD data, failure to yield right of way caused on an average one-third of all collisions resulting in injury or death this year.

“More number of pedestrians are killed on crosswalks than any other place,” said Peter Beadle, Chair of Transportation Alternatives’ Queens committee.

NYPD data shows that the number of summons for failure to yield right of way has increased since 2014, but a January 2016 investigation by DNAinfo found that only 15% of drivers responsible for pedestrian deaths had actually faced serious charges.

Peter Beadle hopes that the new law will help the police enforce section 19-190 in a more effective way.

Whether the bill will result in fewer pedestrian deaths remains to be seen. “But it’s a first step in that direction,” Beadle said. “More prosecutions will cause drivers to critically evaluate their own driving. Ultimately, we need to change the culture that treats crashes as accidents.”