2016-07-06 / Front Page

Queens Judge Rules ‘Right of Way’ Law Unconstitutional


A Queens judge last week ruled that the Right of Way law is unconstitutional, heating up a debate between supporters, officials at the Transport Workers Union and city lawmakers.
The City Council unanimously passed the Right of Way law in August 2014, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero traffic safety initiative. Under the law, motorists who strike a pedestrian in a crosswalk could face a misdemeanor charge for failure to yield.
Councilman Rory Lancman called for changes to the existing law that would clarify factors used to determine charges against motorists, such as poor visibility, weather conditions, roadway design and whether or not an owner’s failure to maintain a vehicle caused an accident that resulted in pedestrian injury.
The Queens lawmaker said changes incorporated in his proposal would ensure that the NYPD is making arrests under the law based on a uniform set of criteria, rather than by the individual judgment of officers at the scene of an accident.
Pedestrian safety advocates argue that the changes would make the law less effective in protecting pedestrians from motorists who flout traffic laws. Officials at the non-profit, Transportation Alternatives, said the group “will fight any effort to water down hard-fought improvements to street safety.”
NYPD officials said enforcement of the Right of Way law has resulted in the arrest of more than a dozen motorists since August 2014.
Advocates blasted a ruling by Queens Criminal Court Judge Gia Morris, calling it “flawed,” and comparing the law to the battle against drunk drivers.
“Just as penalties against drunk drivers eventually became firmly established in American jurisprudence, we are confident that the Right of Way law and its treatment of negligent failure to yield will prevail on appeal,” Transportation Alternatives Director Paul Steely White said.
The head of Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100 praised the ruling.
“The judge clearly, forcefully and correctly has ruled that Bill de Blasio has trampled on the Constitution and on the rights of hardworking, conscientious bus operators,” Union President John Samuelson said.
Morris ruled the law unconstitutional in her decision to toss the charges against bus driver Issac Sanson, who struck and killed an 85-year-old woman on December 19, 2014, while making a right turn at a Queens intersection.
Morris stated the law “violates a defendant’s right to due process, to be presumed innocent, and a defendant’s rights against self-incrimination.”
A spokesperson for Transportation Advocates said the group is pursuing an appeal.

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