Drivers have more reason than ever to look both ways before making a turn.
Cops arrested a bus driver after they say he ran over and severely injured a teen in Williamsburg on Friday morning, charging him under a new law, passed in August, that increases the penalty for drivers who ignore pedestrians’ right of way and hit them. A road-safety advocate hailed the arrest as progress in the Vision Zero campaign, backed by the mayor and aimed at reducing traffic fatalities to zero by 2024.
“Prior to Vision Zero, except for certain criminal behaviors, drivers who killed or injured pedestrians never had significant consequences,” said Steve Vaccaro, a lawyer who helped get the law passed. “This sends a message that crashes have consequences. Drivers used to be able to walk away, but the victim can’t always do that.”
The driver of the Q59 bus hit the girl as he made a left turn from Union Avenue into a Manhattan-bound lane of Grand Street, crushing her leg, according to a report. Responding to a call shortly after 8:45 am, paramedics freed the girl from underneath the bus and transported her to Bellevue Hospital Center in Manhattan in stable but critical condition, with severe injuries to her left leg, a police spokeswoman said.
Officers cuffed the driver at the scene and charged him with failure to exercise due care and failure to yield. The new law makes the latter charge a misdemeanor.
The move toward arresting professional drivers who hit pedestrians does not sit well with transit-worker advocates, who argue the new policy puts undue burden on individual drivers when the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should bear some responsibility.
“Arresting drivers won’t solve anything,” said Jim Gannon, a spokesman for the Transit Workers Union. “The MTA gets a pass and the consequences fall on operators.”
In December, bus drivers refused to leave their depots following the arrest of one of their colleagues involved in a fatal collision in East Flatbush, according to a New York Post report.
Until Friday, the driver arrested in Williamsburg had a 29-year record of clean driving, and he should not be slapped with criminal charges before an investigation is done, Gannon said.
“It’s terrible that the poor kid is in the hospital, but an accident that happens in one instant does not necessarily mean criminality,” he said.
Police must have probable cause to arrest people on criminal charges, but not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is required for convictions.
The new law carries a $250 fine, and if you ask Vaccaro, it doesn’t do nearly enough.
“This is a step forward, but the fine is sort of an insult,” he said. “You should be fined thousands, not hundreds, if you kill someone.”