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Advocates wary of proposed amendment to right-of-way law

By Madina Toure

Pedestrian safety advocates are worried that a bill City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) is proposing will make the city’s right-of-way law for drivers more lenient.

The right-of-way law, unanimously passed by the City Council last year as part of a slate of Vision Zero bills, states that if a driver hits someone who has the right of way in a crosswalk, the NYPD may bring a misdemeanor charge against that driver for failure to yield.

Lancman said his bill just seeks to provide more specifics on what would constitute failure to yield and failure to exercise due care—including factors such as visibility, weather conditions, roadway design and whether or not the vehicle was functioning properly.

He said the NYPD did not give him a clear explanation for how it will go about enforcing the law.

“We just want to make sure that the law is being enforced and the NYPD are making their judgments to arrest people based on a uniform set of criteria and not just on an ad hoc basis,” he said.

Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer representing the parents of Allison Liao, 3, who was killed by an SUV while crossing Main Street and Cherry Avenue with her grandmother Oct. 6, 2013, said the new bill would require the NYPD to consider every possible excuse by the driver.

“The burden should be on the driver to show that they acted consistent with due care,” Vaccaro said. “It should not be some big investigation beyond what a police officer ordinarily does in investigating any crime before there is a charge.”

Paul Steely White, executive director of the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, said the bill would create a setback to protections for pedestrians.

“For any Council member, any New Yorker, to hamper the job that the NYPD is now just beginning to do — to protect pedestrians — is anti-safety and we will fight any effort to water down hard fought improvements to street safety,” White said.

The right-of-way law has yielded about 22 charges since August 2014, according to Vaccaro. Since then, there have been hundreds of crashes in which the law should have been applied, he said.

Lancman said the advocates wanted a strict liability law that would send a driver to jail simply for failing to yield, noting that drivers cannot be sent to jail just for getting into an accident.

“All my bill does is explain some of the factors to consider in evaluating whether someone exercised due care or not,” he said. “It doesn’t make the law stricter, it doesn’t make the law more lenient but in the absence of the NYPD explaining the factors that it considers, we’re going to explain it for them.”

Lancman met with the Liao family, White and members of Families for Safer Streets and Make Queens Safer Tuesday to discuss the bill and said the discussion was constructive.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.

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