Bus drivers now protected under city’s right-of-way law

By Madina Toure

A settlement between the Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the city clarifies that bus drivers will not be criminally charged in pedestrian crosswalk accidents if they did not act recklessly.

In June 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed into law a right-of-way provision that raised a traffic violation—failure to yield to a pedestrian or bicyclist in a crosswalk—to a criminal misdemeanor when a driver fails to exercise “due care” and a pedestrian or bicyclist is injured. The misdemeanor carries a possible fine of up to $250 and 30 days in jail.

TWU argued that the provision does not define “due care” or give examples of the types of driver behavior that would be considered a violation, which led to six bus operators involved in accidents being arrested and charged between September 2014 and this February.

“This settlement safeguards all bus operators and other transit workers who drive MTA motor vehicles from arrest if involved in an accident lacking recklessness,” John Samuelson, TWU’s president, said.

The settlement specifies that before prosecuting drivers, officers have to prove that a driver acted carelessly. The city also said it would consider blind spots in buses.

In March, City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans), a former MTA bus operator and union member, introduced a bill calling for city bus operators to be exempt from the failure-to-yield law.

Miller said there are already investigating agencies that respond and investigate any time there is a fatality involving an MTA worker and that the settlement allows bus drivers to defend themselves.

“I genuinely think that we do probably a little more legislating than we should and we should do more educating and less legislating,” Miller said.

In May, City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Hillcrest) introduced a bill seeking clarification of how law enforcement proves that a driver did not act carefully.

“We don’t want people to be arrested and put in jail unless they are really doing something that is negligent or reckless and deserves being put through the criminal justice system,” Lancman said. “The law needed to be clarified so that it was applied fairly and the cops can arrest people who really are being reckless and pedestrians can get the protection they really need.”

Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for de Blasio, said the city has prosecuted about 38 due care cases and that six involved bus drivers.

Norvell said the settlement simply clarifies a practice the city has always undertaken, although he said TWU believes the city was acting otherwise.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the law helps keep pedestrians safe.

“This settlement makes explicit what the city, the NYPD and district attorneys mean by ‘due care,’ and the standard we are using as we implement this law,” de Blasio said.

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

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