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A Key Vision Zero Law Is Failing To Hold Dangerous Drivers Accountable

On January 14, 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, incoming Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney of the 114th Precinct meet at Northern Boulevard and 61st Street, the dangerous Woodside intersection where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was struck and killed in the crosswalk while walking to school in December
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On January 14, 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, incoming Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney of the 114th Precinct meet at Northern Boulevard and 61st Street, the dangerous Woodside intersection where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was struck and killed in the crosswalk while walking to school in December Rob Bennett / Mayor's Office

After the fifteenth cyclist was killed on New York City streets, Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged “to use the power of NYPD enforcement on motorists to try and immediately jolt the situation." But a key legal tool designed to punish dangerous drivers is so far failing to hold them accountable.

The Right of Way law was passed in 2014, the same year the mayor announced his Vision Zero initiative. If a car fails to yield to a cyclist or pedestrian with the right of way, it allows police to issue either a criminal or civil summons for $100 on top of or in lieu of a traffic violation. If the cyclist or pedestrian is injured or killed, the fine can go up to $250 and the driver could face up to 30 days in jail.

But in practice, the majority of Right of Way tickets are dismissed, according to officials at the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, or OATH, the agency that adjudicates the tickets.

Since 2015, drivers have received 10,917 civil summonses for Right of Way violations, and out of those, 6,349 were dismissed, while 3,265 were paid without attending a hearing. And 804 people just ignored the summons, according to OATH records.

OATH summonses are dismissed for various reasons including police error on the summons like writing the wrong names, or the driver was proven to not be at fault.

NYPD officers are not required to attend OATH court, although a judge may request that the officer to show up.

Police have the option to write a Right of Way ticket as a criminal summons, in the case of serious injury or death. Since 2016, the NYPD has issued 139 criminal summonses to drivers. Of the 15 cyclists killed this year by drivers in New York City, only one of the drivers received a ticket for a Right of Way violation.

“People will never move forward in their view of what’s a safe or acceptably risky form of behavior in traffic without leadership from prosecutors and law enforcement telling them that this sort of thing is not okay,” attorney and safe streets advocate Steve Vaccaro said.

A spokesperson for the de Blasio administration referred us to the NYPD.

NYPD spokesperson Sergeant Jessica McRorie said that “The Right of Way Law is a bedrock of Vision Zero, and helps us save lives across the city. The NYPD is committed to the effective enforcement of this law.”

Stephen Nessen is the transportation reporter for WNYC. You can follow him on Twitter @s_nessen.

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