In August of 2014, the Right of Way Law took effect in New York City. This law made it a misdemeanor if a driver hit a pedestrian or a bicycle rider who had the right-of-way. The aim was to provide more protection to pedestrians by criminalizing a failure to yield on the part of drivers.
While victims of pedestrian accidents can bring civil cases for serious injury with the help of a New York personal injury law firm, criminal charges are often much more of a deterrent for bad driver behavior. This is especially true since insurance generally pays for losses in pedestrian accident claims, rather than drivers paying themselves.
Unfortunately, the law has not yet had the desired effect. The problem is that the police department and district attorneys frequently decline to investigate and bring charges against drivers under the Right of Way law.
The reason drivers often aren’t prosecuted is because of a traffic rule which says pedestrians do not have the right-of-way if the pedestrian enters the intersection after the “Don’t Walk” warning starts to flash. Because the time that the “Don’t Walk” flashing phrase has been displayed has been made longer at many intersections where the city has installed countdown timers, the time that the steady “Walk” display shows is very short.
Improving the Right of Way Law to Make Pedestrians Safer
To address the shortcomings of the Right of Way Law, Public Advocate Letitia James sponsored Intro 997. Streets Blog indicates that Intro 997 would extend the Right of Way rule so it applied both when the steady “Walk” light was displayed as well as when the flashing “Don’t Walk” warning was displayed.
If passed, Intro 997 would remedy the problems with the current traffic rules, which are being called both “counterintuitive” and a “fatal flaw.” Most New Yorkers will walk during the flashing phase when the “Don’t Walk” countdown timer is showing, so applying the Right of Way law to this situation would bring it more in line with the normal behavior of pedestrians in the city.
The Deputy Commissioner of the DOT and an Inspector with the New York Police Department Transportation Bureau have spoken out in support of the proposed bill to alter the Right of Way Law. Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo testified before the City Council Transportation Committee about the law and said that Intro 997 would “align the law with the acknowledged reality on our streets and our concern for pedestrians’ safety.”
Under current rules, if there were two pedestrians crossing and one enters after the flashing signal begins but walks faster than another who entered seconds earlier, only one of those pedestrians would be protected by the Right of Way law if they were simultaneously hit by a car.
Obviously, this result is illogical. The law should apply in both cases, just as both victims should be able to get compensation for serious injuries if the accident harms them. Rosenberg, Minc, Falkoff & Wolff can help victims with an injury claim if they’ve been seriously harmed by others, but it will take a change in the Right of Way law to fix the inconsistencies in the criminal regulations.