One of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s programs since he took office last year is “Vision Zero”, which is designed to reduce traffic and pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries in New York City. The Vision Zero program has already resulted in a reduction of the standard speed limit in the city from 30 miles per hour to 25 miles per hour, the installation of additional red light cameras and traffic reconfiguration at dangerous intersections.
Another element of the program which is encountering some strong resistance, particularly from transportation unions, is a regulation designed to increase the penalties for drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians crossing the street, resulting in fatalities or serious injuries. This aspect of Vision Zero has come to the forefront recently after a tragic accident on February 13, 2015. A fifteen year old girl walking to school was crossing Grand Street with a walk signal when she was struck by an MTA bus operated by Francisco DeJesus. The young girl was pinned under the front wheel of the bus while Mr. DeJesus was making a left turn, and suffered serious left leg injuries.
Based on the new right of way law with enhanced penalties for pedestrian fatalities or serious injuries, a violation of the law is now classified as a misdemeanor, rather than a traffic ticket. Drivers who are found to have violated the law can be sentenced to up to thirty days in jail and face fines of up to $250.00. Mr. DeJesus was arrested for violating the failure to yield law, which his union, the Transportation Workers Union Local 100, feels is unfair. They contend that DeJesus was not distracted by texting or using a cell phone, was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and was not driving recklessly. Rather, this was simply a tragic accident, due to a combination of the chaotic nature of making a left turn on city streets and the blind spots on a bus.
Vision Zero proponents, including Amy Cohen, who started an advocacy group called Families for Safe Streets after her twelve year old son was killed by a van in Brooklyn, argue that all drivers should be held accountable when they strike and kill or seriously injure pedestrians. However, there have been many instances in which drivers who struck pedestrians were determined to not be responsible since the law went into effect last year. Ironically, 2014 was notable for having the fewest pedestrian traffic fatalities in the NYC history, with 132. However, transit safety groups point to the individual stories of lives lost, including that of 21 year old Marisol Martinez, a nursing student from Brooklyn, and 88 year old Julian Porres, who died a month after being struck by a turning truck.
A spokesman for the Transportation Union contends that bus operators who are involved in a wrongful death accident or an accident with serious injuries are suspended while the accident is investigated and face a disciplinary process, but they do not believe a violation warrants criminal charges. Three bus drivers have been arrested under the new right of way law since it went into effect in August of 2014. A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio stated: “the new failure to yield law is a vital tool in our efforts to protect pedestrians and make our streets safer…we will work with our partners at the M.T.A. and push for the training and support drivers need to do their job safely, and we are looking closely at changes we can make on our streets to prevent crashes between pedestrians and buses.”
In my opinion, this is a battle that will go on between the Mayor, City Council, M.T.A. and transportation union as to the proper enforcement of a law which likely needs to be tweaked to prevent unfair application in cases which are not criminal and possibly tragic accidents or negligence.
If you or a family member are charged with a crime or traffic violation, please contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Law Office of Mark A. Siesel with offices in White Plains, the Bronx and Peekskill for a free consultation to discuss your legal rights and options. We can be reached online or toll free at (914) 428-7386.