The New York City Right of Way Law


Introduction

New York City’s Right of Way Law helps protect pedestrians on dangerous city streets. The law makes it a misdemeanor crime when a driver fails to yield and kills or injures a person walking in the crosswalk with the right of way. The law is known as Sect. 19-190 of the NYC Adm. Code or Local Law 29.

Every year more than 15,000 people walking and biking are injured by drivers on New York City streets. Drivers failing to yield to pedestrians is the leading cause of these injuries - injuries that are often life-altering, involving loss of limb, brain damage or extensive hospitalization.

The research is consistent with common sense: real consequences for careless driving is the number one way to encourage safer decisions behind the wheel. Before the Right of Way Law, the majority of these drivers would only face a small fine and 3 points on their driving record. Often there would be no consequences at all.

Now, bus drivers’ groups are seeking to exempt themselves from all liability under the Right of Way law, by supporting a bill before the New York City Council (Intro 663) and through a lawsuit against the City. Transportation Alternatives opposes Intro 663 and views it as a step backwards in the effort to create a safer city for all New Yorkers. Read more here.

Exempting Bus Drivers from the Right of Way Law

Exempting bus drivers would be detrimental to the protection that the Right of Way Law creates for pedestrians, and would be a step backwards in reaching Vision Zero, our City's goal of eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries.

Professional bus drivers set the standard for all drivers and should not be allowed to drive with less care than a taxi driver or the average daily commuter. Laws meant to deter harmful behavior cannot have carve-outs that dilute their effects and create double standards for different drivers. We know that such non-uniform application of traffic laws breaks the public trust and adherence to those laws.

Just last year, MTA bus drivers struck and killed nine pedestrians. In eight out of those nine deaths, the bus driver failed to yield when the pedestrian had the right of way. Strengthening the Right of Way Law for all drivers, not diluting it, is the commonsense approach to make our streets safer for all of us.

Professional drivers should, at a minimum, be held to the same standard as other drivers. Bus drivers receive special training in large part because they are operating a potentially lethal vehicle weighing more than 25,000 lbs. on city streets. Blind spots are no excuse for failing to yield to a pedestrian. Passenger cars, private buses and sanitation trucks also have blind spots -  all drivers know they exist.

The responsibility professional bus drivers have for the safety of others requires us to ensure they operate with the highest level of diligence, due care, and compliance with laws that exist to protect all of us, especially pedestrians, the most vulnerable people on our streets.

You can add your name to the thousands of New Yorkers who are standing up for their right of way: transalt.org/defendROW

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Right of Way Law?

New York City’s Right of Way Law (known as Section 19-190 of the NYC Administrative Code or Local Law 29) helps protect pedestrians on dangerous city streets. The law makes it a possible misdemeanor crime when a driver fails to yield and kills or injures a person walking in the crosswalk with the right of way. The law can work two ways: If a driver fails to yield but doesn’t cause an injury, the driver may be fined up to $100; if the driver causes physical injury or death, the driver may be fined up to $250 and in theory be sentenced to up to 30 days in jail, though this is highly unlikely for the first offense.

How does the Right of Way Law define right of way?

The law requires drivers to exercise basic due care at all times to avoid failing to yield to a pedestrian or bicyclist with the right of way. That right of way typically exists in crosswalks where the pedestrian has the light, or when a bicyclist is riding in a road lane while passing an intersection, often on the right side of a motorist.

How does the NYPD decide if there has been a violation?

If the NYPD finds, based on probable cause, that a driver has failed to yield to a pedestrian or bicyclist with the right of way and caused a physical injury or fatality, that driver may be charged and arrested at the scene of the crash.

What happens then?

The driver will likely receive a Desk Appearance Ticket at the precinct office and will have to appear in court at a later date. The district attorney’s office can also bring a subsequent charge if the evidence supports it - even if the driver was not arrested at the scene of the crash.

Does a driver have to be reckless or intentionally hurt a pedestrian or cyclist to be charged under the Right of Way Law?

No. If the officer finds probable cause to believe the driver negligently failed to yield and violated the victim's right of way, that driver could be arrested.

How did the NYPD treat failure to yield before?

Before the Right of Way Law took effect, police officers were required to have personally witnessed the crash that caused an injury, despite witness testimony or physical evidence of failure to yield. In instances where a person was killed, the driver who caused the fatality by failing to yield often was charged with nothing more than a traffic violation and issued a small fine. Often there would be no consequences at all.

Today, with the Right of Way Law, a driver who does not yield to a person walking may be charged with a misdemeanor. The law responded to an increase in pedestrians being killed by drivers, and since the law has taken effect, those numbers have begun to decline.

How would the Accountability Exemption for Bus Drivers Bill affect the Right of Way Law?

The Accountability Exemption for Bus Drivers Bill (Intro 663) would add a new section to the Right of Way Law, fully exempting bus drivers, and only bus drivers, from any liability under this law. Transportation Alternatives opposes this bill.  You can read the T.A. Memo of Opposition to Intro 663 here.

The TWU claims that bus drivers are forced to make dangerous driving choices – Is this true?

No. The MTA does not force their drivers to make dangerous driving choices simply because drivers must follow pre-set routes and schedules. All drivers in NYC  must use basic due care to ensure they navigate our streets safely and without putting the lives of others at risk. This includes daily commuters, taxi drivers and commercial van drivers. And it especially includes bus drivers who operate a dangerous vehicle weighing 25,000+ lbs on city streets. No one should be above the law, and no one is being forced to violate pedestrians' right of way. Sanitation truck drivers are also required to follow specific routes, and have to do so within specific time periods. Seeking complete exemption for one set of drivers quickly risks other drivers demanding similar exemptions, ultimately resulting in the law failing to protect the most vulnerable road users for whom it was created.

Don’t blind spots make it impossible for bus drivers to avoid hitting pedestrians?

No. Passenger cars, private buses and sanitation trucks also have blind spots. Drivers who enter a crosswalk when pedestrians have the right of way, know that pedestrians may be momentarily out of view behind a blind spot. All drivers know this. And professional bus drivers know this better than most and receive special training. Professionally trained bus drivers operating a lethal vehicle should not be held to a lower standard than other drivers.

Most bus drivers work their entire careers without running over pedestrians in the crosswalk. Injuring and killing pedestrians can be avoided - it is not inevitable.

Are bus drivers being unfairly targeted under the Right of Way Law?

During six months from 2014 to 2015, the NYPD made approximately 21 arrests under the Right of Way Law, 6 of which were of bus drivers. By contrast, in all of 2014 the NYPD issued over 33,000 tickets to drivers who failed to yield to pedestrians with the right of way - these are the tickets that at most will impose a $50 fine and 3 points on a driver’s record. In theory, the Right of Way Law could be applied every time a driver fails to yield, but currently it is being applied in only less than 0.5% of the instances when it could have been used. With so few drivers arrested, it is far too early to conclude whether anyone is being unfairly targeted under the law. Furthermore, most arrests under the Right of Way Law are based in part on a thorough and highly detailed investigation by the NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad.

Aren’t City and State Workers Already Exempt from the Right of Way Law?

No. There is a "Safe Harbor" exemption in the law to make sure City and State workers are protected in situations where they have no control. The provision also ensures that emergency vehicles, including ambulances and repair equipment operated by City workers, are not liable under the law when they use basic due care. But this does not mean that City and State workers are exempt from this life-saving law.

The MTA and TWU have their own disciplinary systems. Shouldn't that mean they can be exempt NYPD enforcement?

No, that would be unfair to the public and all other drivers. Exempting any driver from this bill weakens the law for everyone. Laws meant to deter harmful behavior cannot have carve-outs that dilute their effects and create double standards for motorists.

Just last year, MTA bus drivers struck and killed nine pedestrians. In eight out of those nine cases, the operator failed to yield when the pedestrian had the right of way. Clearly the TWU and MTA's current administrative review and sanctioning measures are failing to protect other road users. Fully implementing the Right of Way Law for all drivers, not diluting it, is the commonsense approach.

Drivers get handcuffed for violating the Right of Way Law? Really?

Under this law's misdemeanor charge, people arrested are most likely to be released after receiving a Desk Appearance Ticket at the precinct office. It is also highly unlikely that the 30 days in jail allowed under the law will be applied, keeping this law in line with similar misdemeanor offenses.

However, it is an arrestable offense to make dangerous driving choices that may kill or injure someone. If a person drives drunk, they will be handcuffed. If a person discharges a gun in public, they may well be handcuffed, even if the person had no intention of doing so. And if a person drives a car over someone who is walking with the right of way in the crosswalk, they may be handcuffed. However, NYPD officers could decide not to handcuff a driver - they typically have the discretion to make that choice.

You can read the original Right of Way bill here.