New Law in New York Seeks Accountability for Right of Way Accidents

New Law in New York Seeks Accountability for Right of Way Accidents

New York City Enacts Right of Way Law to Punish Negligent Drivers

Responding to concerns from a wide range of traffic safety advocates, New York City has passed a law that provides criminal sanctions when a motorist violates a pedestrian’s right of way and causes injury or death. According to proponents of the legislation, the standard practice prior to enactment had essentially been inaction, unless the accident was actually witnessed by a police officer. As a result, many who were seriously injured or who had family members killed while legally in a crosswalk found themselves could not look to police to hold the wrongdoers accountable. Proponents say that enforcement of the new law will make New York’s streets safer.

The new right of way law has been castigated by some in the press, as well as city council members who opposed it, with detractors arguing that it criminalizes all failure to yield accidents, and leads to the logical conclusion that there “are no traffic accidents.”

Proponents of the law contend that this is simply wrong, that the right of way law addresses a known and serious problem—that police and prosecutors were not enforcing the law even when it was clear that drivers had violated it. They point out that the new statute does not apply every time a driver hits a pedestrian, but only where persons walking or bicycling are following all the rules and are hit by drivers who fail to yield to their right of way.

In an op-ed piece, the New York Daily News referred to the new law as “meting out jail” to drivers. Proponents of the act say the maximum jail sentence is 30 days and, as a practical matter, a first-time offender will never face jail time.

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