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In a First, NYPD Precinct Officer Charges Driver Under New Right-of-Way Law

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The Law Office of Vaccaro & White is representing the victim in what may be the first case of a precinct-level charge for violating NYC Administrative Code Section 19-190, also known as the Right-of-Way Law.

The Right-of-Way Law provides for criminal misdemeanor penalties for a driver who strikes and injures a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way. The law was designed to allow precinct-level officers to charge sober but reckless drivers who stay at the scene — something that for years, only a tiny, specialized group of officers assigned to the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad were permitted to do in a handful of the most serious cases.

The crash involved a 70-year-old woman attempting to cross East 96th Street from north to south at the eastern leg of the intersection with Second Avenue, walking from home to the Stanley Isaacs Senior Center. A cab driver who was proceeding westbound on East 96th Street ran a red light and struck her in the crosswalk while she had the walk signal. The victim suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries. The cab driver admitted that his light was red, but claimed that he obeyed the red light and never made contact with the woman. According to the report, the police officer from the 23rd Precinct responding to the crash interviewed an “independent witness” at the scene, concluded that the driver’s account was false, and charged the driver with violation of the Right-of-Way Law.

The charge is significant because it may reflect an end to NYPD’s “observed violation” rule, which prevents precinct cops from issuing citations for motorist violations they do not personally witness, as well as other limits on precinct-level investigation and enforcement against reckless driving.

NYPD crash investigations have until now proceeded along one of two tracks. Only the worst crashes — causing fatalities and critical injuries – are investigated by a 20-member Collision Investigation Squad (CIS), while the other 90 percent of serious crashes are investigated by precinct-level officers.

Under this two-track system, CIS officers can interview witnesses, gather videotape and other forensic evidence, and issue charges against sober drivers who stay at the scene. In contrast, precinct officers responding to non-life-threatening crashes are not permitted to issue summonses for reckless acts not observed by police — in keeping with the so-called “observed violation” rule — and often ignore criminality other than DWI offenses, even hit-and-run cases.

The Right-of-Way Law was designed to remove the limits on precinct-level traffic crash investigation and enforcement and to make precinct officers, who respond to 90 percent of serious crashes, the vanguard for street safety. Two features of the Right-of-Way Law make this possible. First, by defining a driver’s violation of a pedestrian or cyclists’ right of way as a misdemeanor — a crime — instead of a traffic violation, the law eliminates application of the “observed violation” rule (which apparently only applies to traffic violations). Officers no longer have to randomly observe a traffic violation that causes injury in order to take enforcement action against it.

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Vision Zero and the Challenge of Culture Change at NYPD

This is the second post in a two-part piece about how Vision Zero will have to change attitudes toward streets and driving in order to succeed. Read part one here.

New York City is known for its hustle, its people perpetually in a hurry, trying to make good time. It is almost a point of pride for New Yorkers, who view themselves as tougher, faster, and cannier than other people.

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mayor Bill de Blasio at January’s Vision Zero press conference. Photo: Clarence Eckerson, Jr.

But when it comes to driving, hustling to beat the green light or press through a crosswalk can be deadly.

Too many New Yorkers view speeding as normal or even necessary. Even Council Member Mark Weprin, who was moved by his interactions with victims’ families to support Vision Zero initiatives, recently defended drivers in his district who are accustomed to speeding and getting away with it. “I don’t want to be too pie in the sky about this, but we’re going to take law abiding citizens and turn them into law breakers,” Weprin said at a recent council hearing, implying it is unreasonable to expect New Yorkers to obey the speed limit.

“We’re going to be asking New Yorkers to slow down in places where they don’t necessarily want to,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “When you get into the more difficult areas of enforcement, education, and culture change… there’s no question, there are a lot of challenges ahead.”

Speeding is rampant in New York City, but enforcement is notoriously lax. NYPD only catches a fraction of the city’s speeding drivers, as data about the city’s speed cameras proved. Twenty cameras — operational only when school activities are happening — issued 48,500 speeding tickets this June, more than five times as many as NYPD officers wrote that month.

“With speed cameras you can see the exact cultural obstacle when you go to Albany,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White. “Legislators are saying ‘Let’s not be unfair to motorists.’ Why are we still having this conversation when we know they’re saving lives?”

The de Blasio administration will make an impact on safety if it continues to redesign streets and step up enforcement, but in the end it will always be up to drivers whether or not they choose to speed. Likewise, the city’s shared culture will determine whether or not these behaviors are still seen as acceptable or normal.

“I think we’ll have been successful in the culture when speeding is perceived as anti-social as drunk driving,” says Steely White.

Beyond Blaming the Victim

Police Commissioner William Bratton was by de Blasio’s side when the mayor announced the Vision Zero initiative in January. “We will be just as aggressive in preventing a deadly crash on our streets as we are in preventing a deadly shooting,” Bratton said. His commitment was an encouraging sign following years of stasis in NYPD’s approach to protecting the public from traffic violence.

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Motorist Fatally Strikes “Very Small” Pedestrian in Chinatown [Updated]

Canal Street, looking west, at Elizabeth Street, where a driver struck and killed a senior this morning. NYPD and a witness says the victim was crossing south to north (left to right) when the driver waiting at the light accelerated into her when the signal changed.  Image: Google Maps

Canal Street, looking west toward Elizabeth Street, where a driver struck a senior this morning. Image: Google Maps

NYPD has filed no charges against a driver who killed a senior in Chinatown this morning.

The victim, believed to be in her 70s, was crossing Canal Street at Elizabeth Street at approximately 4 a.m., when the motorist hit her with a Jeep SUV, according to NYPD and published reports. Based on media accounts and information provided by police, it appears the victim was crossing Canal south to north and was struck when the driver, westbound on Canal, accelerated when the signal changed.

From the Daily News:

“I didn’t see her, she was very small,” said the 64-year-old driver, who was heading west on Canal St. but immediately stopped the car after the collision.

The man, who did not give his name, was in shock when he realized what had happened. “My heart, it’s pounding.”

Armando Noreles, 43, was stopped at the red light in his delivery truck beside the Jeep moments before the SUV slammed into the woman.

“We were waiting at the red light. When the light changed he started driving, and he didn’t see the lady and he just hit the lady.”

NYPD has not released the victim’s identity, pending family notification. She died at New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. ”We saw her every day, every morning,” Norales told the Daily News. “She was so cute. Early in the morning, she tried to get money collecting cans.”

As of this morning, an NYPD spokesperson said there was “no criminality.” Police had no information on who had the right of way, and said the Collision Investigation Squad was still working the crash.

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NYPD: Failure to Yield Caused Crash That Left Cyclist Brain Dead; No Charges

The bus driver was making a turn, in red, when he struck cyclist Anna Maria Moström, whose path is shown in white. NYPD's preliminary investigation results fault the driver, but no charges have been filed. Photo: Google Maps

The bus driver was making a turn, in red, when he struck cyclist Anna Maria Moström, whose path is shown in white. NYPD’s preliminary investigation results fault the driver, but no charges have been filed. Photo: Google Maps

No charges have been filed against the bus driver who left a Roosevelt Island cyclist brain dead last week, even though NYPD’s preliminary investigation shows the driver caused the crash by failing to yield to the cyclist.

Photo: annamariamostrom/Instagram

Photo: annamariamostrom/Instagram

At 9:18 p.m. on Wednesday, October 8, Anna Maria Moström, 29, was riding her bike northbound on Roosevelt Island’s Main Street. A 51-year-old man behind the wheel of a Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation “red bus” going south turned left across her path to enter a turnaround beneath the Motorgate parking garage. The drivers-side bumper struck Moström and she fell off her bike, according to police. She was unresponsive when EMS arrived, and was transported to Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Moström, a model who moved to New York two years ago, is a Roosevelt Island resident. After the crash, her family arrived from Sweden to be by her hospital bed. Although she has undergone surgeries and doctors hope she can begin breathing without a respirator soon, she faces a bleak prognosis for regaining consciousness, according to Swedish newspapers Nöjesbladet and Expressen. The family is making end-of-life preparations including organ donation, according to a friend of Moström’s who spoke to the Daily News.

While the driver was not intoxicated and was not using a cell phone at the time of the crash, NYPD said preliminary investigation results showed that the driver was at fault for not yielding to the cyclist. Although there is a new law to penalize drivers in exactly this type of crash, no summonses have been issued and no charges have been filed against the driver.

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Council Members Press NYPD to Enforce the Law in Death of Sui Leung

Under a new Vision Zero law, a driver who critically injures or kills a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way is guilty of a misdemeanor. But nearly two months after it took effect, there is no evidence NYPD is applying the law, known as Section 19-190, as Mayor de Blasio and the City Council intended. This week, three council members expressly asked NYPD to charge a motorist who killed a senior in Manhattan, and the response from NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan has troubling implications about how police are enforcing the new law.

Image: NBC

On the afternoon of September 25, a commercial van driver hit 82-year-old Sui Leung as she crossed in the crosswalk at Kenmare and Elizabeth Streets. Leung was pronounced dead at Downtown Hospital. NYPD would not identify the driver, but the van belonged to Party Rental Ltd. of Teterboro, New Jersey.

“Police did not suspect any criminality and the driver was not charged,” the Daily News reported. NYPD told Streetsblog the driver had a green light. But a visit to the intersection showed that there is no exclusive turn phase at Kenmare and Elizabeth — meaning Leung would have had a walk signal when the driver had a green, and would therefore have had the right of way.

“She had the right of way,” said City Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area where the crash occurred. ”The driver is supposed to yield to pedestrians.”

Chin told Streetsblog her staff has spoken with Leung’s family. ”From what we know of Ms. Leung, she’s an active senior,” said Chin. “She goes to the senior center every day. She walks from her home to Chinatown. The family is also very upset about what happened.”

“It’s just so clear that she had the right of way and the driver needs to be prosecuted,” Chin said. “You’re talking about someone getting killed.”

On Wednesday, Chin and other council members sent a letter to Chan [PDF]. Based on the details provided in the NYPD crash report, which according to Chin showed Leung “unquestionably did nothing wrong,” she urged NYPD to file charges under Section 19-190. The letter was co-signed by Council Member Rosie Mendez, who represents the area where Leung lived, and Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council transportation committee.

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Surviving a Walk in NYC Should Not Depend on Luck

As far as Bill de Blasio's NYPD and TLC are concerned, this never happened. Image: CBS 2

As far as Bill de Blasio’s NYPD and TLC are concerned, this never happened. Image: CBS 2

The Taxi and Limousine Commission says it doesn’t know anything about a cabbie who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk, hit a pedestrian, and crashed into a building earlier this week. Other than to deflect blame from the driver, NYPD has refused to release information about the crash.

It happened Monday morning. From the Post:

“He [the pedestrian] was literally flying. He fell right here in front of this window,” said Elsa Gomez, 28, who works in Macaron Cafe on East 59th Street near Madison Avenue.

The cab careened onto the sidewalk at around 11:50 a.m. and continued into the front of an eyeglass store, shattering its window.

“It was a huge, scary noise,” said James Escobar, 50, owner of Page and Smith Opticians.

“We were working inside … and we heard a big, huge boom,” Escobar told CBS 2. “I couldn’t even open the door.”

The pedestrian was hospitalized with a leg injury, reports said. “We were lucky,” said Escobar.

NYPD declined to release information about the cab driver or the victim to the press, other than the normal exculpatory statements about the driver. Police told CBS 2 “the cabbie somehow lost control of his vehicle,” and the Post reported that “his license was valid and there were no signs of criminality.”

When I called the department’s public information office, I was told to send an email request. This is NYPD’s polite way of saying “Go away.” I have emailed NYPD many times in seven-plus years at Streetsblog, and have never received a response. We’ll update if we hear back.

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Sanity Prevails as Advocates and Officials Discuss Central Park Safety Issues

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Monday night, Deputy Inspector Jessica Corey, the commanding officer of NYPD’s Central Park Precinct, led a discussion of street safety in Central Park. Convened by the Central Park Conservancy, it drew representatives of most major advocates and organizations of recreational users of the park, including NY Road Runners, Transportation Alternatives, Asphalt Green Triathalon, Central Park Skate Patrol, and various bike clubs and bike racing organizations.

Responding to the tragic killing of Jill Tarlov, the group worked to build on education and enforcement programs for users of the Central Park loop. In contrast to the overheated rhetoric in the tabloids and local TV newscasts, sanity prevailed. Some of the more radical proposals that have surfaced of late — such as closing the loop to bikes — were not even mentioned. Lowering the speed limit in the park did not come up either. It appears that, at least in the short term, cyclists’ use of the park will continue as it has before, albeit with a continuation of the increased level of enforcement already seen for most of 2014.

Inspector Corey started with some statistics: Year to date, there have been 168 crashes involving cyclists in the park, with six involving motor vehicles, 98 involving cyclists crashing on their own, 27 involving two or more cyclists, and 37 involving pedestrians. In addition with the two recent pedestrian fatalities, she mentioned three cases involving pedestrian skull fractures, including one which occurred during the early morning hours when training bicyclists are supposed to use the park loop.

Corey also reported nearly 700 moving violations and 100 criminal citations issued to cyclists year-to-date — a nearly six-fold increase over the first nine months of 2013. Most of these summonses were for failure to yield to pedestrians, although she indicated that there has been an increase in red light tickets as well following the two recent fatalities and other serious crashes.

I raised the issue of criminal summonses, since I’ve received several reports of cyclists on the loop going slowly through red lights, while no pedestrians were in the crosswalk, receiving summonses for “reckless driving” — a misdemeanor charge that applies only to motor vehicle operators and is used only for the most serious misconduct by motorists. The recipients of these summons will be forced to appear in criminal court — there is no way to resolve the summons by mail — but will have the charges dismissed (because they are not motor vehicle operators) after wasting half a day at court. I explained that this kind of criminal summonsing is not only completely improper, but breeds contempt, rather than respect, for the law. Inspector Corey promised to investigate these criminal summonses.

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Vision Zero Hasn’t Changed NYPD Practice of Blaming Deceased Crash Victims

Based on press leaks it seems NYPD still presumes the victim is at fault in most serious crashes. Image: News 12

Based on press leaks it seems NYPD still presumes the victim is at fault in most serious crashes. Image: News 12

Last week an MTA bus driver crushed a pedestrian to death in Mott Haven. By all accounts the victim, walking with a cane, was in the crosswalk at Willis Avenue and E. 147th Street when the driver ran him over while turning left.

If reports are correct the bus driver should be subject to charges under Section 19-190, the new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to hurt or kill pedestrians who have the right of way. Yet before police cleared the crash scene, NYPD exculpated the driver in the press.

“At this point, they don’t believe there was anything criminal involved,” said ABC 7 reporter Lisa Colagrossi, “just that it was a tragic accident.”

It’s possible police may eventually file charges for the Bronx crash — the one time NYPD is reported to have applied Section 19-190 so far, in the case of the cab driver who killed Silvia Gallo on the Upper East Side, charges didn’t come until weeks later. But 10 months into Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative it’s still standard operating procedure for NYPD to declare “no criminality suspected” before investigators have taken down the barricade tape.

NYPD also continues to blame victims for their own deaths. On Monday at around 7:19 p.m., the driver of a Ford SUV fatally struck pedestrian Cristina Alonso in Dyker Heights. Other than the basics like the victim’s name, the driver’s age and vehicle make, and the time and location of the crash, the only information released by police was that Alonso was not in the crosswalk.

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NYPD Data Show Cracking Down on Cyclists Isn’t Preventing Cyclist Deaths

Eight months into Vision Zero, and after weeks of targeted enforcement during “Operation Safe Cycle,” department data show NYPD isn’t moving the needle much on cyclist injuries and deaths.

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan can save lives and prevent injuries by concentrating traffic enforcement on reckless drivers, rather than cyclists. Photo: NYC DOT

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan can save lives and prevent injuries by concentrating traffic enforcement on reckless drivers. Photo: NYC DOT

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced Wednesday that drivers have killed 17 city cyclists so far this year. That’s a 142 percent increase from the first nine months of 2013 — but fatalities can vary widely from year to year, and with 10 total deaths, 2013 marked a record low. This year’s figures are on par with 2012, when motorists killed 17 people on bikes through September, according to NYPD.

Injuries are not as prone to random variation, and numbers have held relatively steady for the last three years. Through August 2014 (the latest data available), NYPD reported 2,575 cyclist injuries. There were 2,684 and 2,599 cyclist injuries through August of 2013 and 2012, respectively. Thanks to new bike lanes and Citi Bike, more people are cycling in New York, so any given cyclist is safer, but to reduce the absolute number of injuries and deaths, NYPD has to raise its game.

Based on NYPD crash reports from the late 90s, research from Charles Komanoff and Right of Way showed that driver behavior was the principal cause of 57 percent of crashes that resulted in cyclist deaths, and that motorists were partly responsible for an additional 21 percent of cyclist fatalities [PDF]. Leading causes of crashes were unsafe passing, drivers turning in front of cyclists, speeding, and drivers running red lights and stop signs.

NYPD summons reports show police are citing more drivers for speeding, running red lights, and failure to yield than in 2013 and 2012, while enforcement for driving while using a cell phone is down. Enforcement continues to lag in significant ways, however. For instance, one of the most valuable tools police now have to deter traffic violence — Section 19-190, the new law that makes it a crime for a driver to injure a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way — remains virtually unused.

Targeting those who are being harmed won’t get NYC to Vision Zero. To reduce cyclist injuries and deaths, NYPD has to reduce the incidence of motorist behavior that puts others at risk.

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Eyes on the Street: Brooklyn Hit-and-Run Aftermath at 4th Ave and Degraw

An officer from the 78th Precinct inspects the vehicle on Degraw Street after its driver fled yesterday morning. Photo: Mike Donohue

After the driver fled the scene, a 78th Precinct officer inspects a car on Degraw Street. Photo: Mike Donohue

Reader Mike Donohue sends this eyewitness account of a driver who fled the scene of a crash in Park Slope Sunday morning.

At about 9:45 a.m., Donohue was on his bike, stopped at a red light on Degraw Street at Fourth Avenue. When the light turned green for traffic on Degraw, a driver heading north on Fourth Avenue ran the light and made a high-speed left turn onto Degraw, crashing into a road construction site and hitting a parked car. With airbags deployed and steam rising from the engine, Donohue says the driver got out “and started slowly jogging away.”

A group of people, including Donohue and members of the construction crew, began following the driver before he disappeared near the Wyckoff Gardens housing complex at Third Avenue and Baltic Street. Donohue called 911 while trailing the suspect before returning to the crash scene to snap a photo.

“I’m pretty sure criminality is suspected,” Donohue said. “At one point, the cops told me that he’d run over a little girl, and they were going to do everything they could to catch the guy.”

NYPD’s press office did not immediately have any information on the crash, and could not confirm that a child was injured. FDNY said it responded to a call at 9:52 a.m. of a pedestrian struck on Fourth Avenue at Union Street, two blocks south of Degraw. One person was transported to Methodist Hospital, but the fire department did not have information available on the victim’s age or condition.

Update (Thursday, October 2): 78th Precinct community council chair N. Wayne Bailey told Streetsblog that at the council’s meeting on Tuesday, officers said the crash resulted in some property damage but no injuries, and that they did not make any comments about a little girl being struck. NYPD continues to search for the driver.