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Cooper’s Law Is Not Getting Dangerous Cab Drivers Off NYC Streets

A Vision Zero law intended to get dangerous cab drivers off the road has been applied just two times since it took effect nine months ago, according to the New York Press.

TLC vehicles were involved in thousands of crashes in the months after Cooper’s Law took effect. The TLC has applied the law two times. Image: CBS 2

TLC vehicles were involved in thousands of crashes in the months after Cooper’s Law took effect. The TLC has applied the law two times. Image: CBS 2

Adopted last September, Cooper’s Law gives the Taxi and Limousine Commission discretion to suspend or revoke the TLC license of a cab driver convicted of a traffic violation or a crime following a crash that causes death or critical injury. The law was named after Cooper Stock, a 9-year-old Manhattan boy who was fatally struck by a yellow cab driver who failed to yield.

In a recent story on the Transport Workers Union’s campaign to weaken traffic safety laws, New York Press reporter Daniel Fitzsimmons spoke with Dana Lerner, Cooper’s mother, about the law named after her son. “An investigation by this paper found that since the law went into effect nine months ago,” Fitzsimmons wrote, “it has only been used twice.”

According to agency crash data issued in compliance with city transparency laws, TLC-licensed vehicles were involved in over 18,000 crashes between last October and March of this year. TLC drivers were involved in eight crashes resulting in critical injury, and five crashes resulting in death, during that period.

Of the crashes that caused death or critical injury, NYPD determined three cab drivers to be at fault. The agency reported that the TLC licenses of all three drivers were “summarily suspended” — but not revoked, as Cooper’s Law allows for. It is conceivable that not a single cab driver has lost his TLC license under Cooper’s Law after injuring or killing someone.

Before Cooper’s Law took effect, Streetsblog reported that its effectiveness would depend on NYPD, which rarely tickets or charges drivers involved in serious crashes. TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi confirmed months later that application of the law would hinge on how often NYPD issues summonses and charges

We contacted TLC to confirm that the agency has used Cooper’s Law just two times. We’ll update this story if we get a response.

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Advocates, Mayor de Blasio Fend Off TWU Attack on Traffic Safety Laws

If you walk or bike in New York City, you can thank Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mayor Bill de Blasio for stopping a Transport Workers Union attempt to weaken traffic safety laws.

A bill from State Senator Martin Dilan and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley would have prohibited police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. It would have also stopped police statewide from arresting bus and taxi drivers suspected of other crimes, including assault and reckless endangerment, and according to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance would have made it more difficult for law enforcement to bring drunk driving cases.

The bill was intended to keep bus drivers from being handcuffed after injuring or killing someone in violation of the city’s Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year. To this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015.

TA staff and members of Families for Safe Streets, who have lost loved ones to traffic violence, traveled to Albany to convince legislators to oppose the bill. Mayor de Blasio and Mothers Against Drunk Driving filed memos of opposition.

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Families for Safe Streets Making Progress in the Assembly

A bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who strike pedestrians and cyclists was hastily passed by the State Senate yesterday, but its chances are looking slimmer in the Assembly. Families for Safe Streets says it has won an ally in Assembly Transportation Committee Chair David Gantt.

A dozen members of Families for Safe Streets traveled to Albany this morning to ask Assembly members not to pass the bill.

“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else. We do this because nobody needs to go through what we’ve gone through,” said Debbie Marks Kahn, whose son Seth was killed in the crosswalk, with the right of way, by a turning MTA bus driver in 2009.

“They want to be exempt,” she said of TWU Local 100, which has pushed to weaken NYC’s new Right of Way Law. “That’s the only way they would have it, and the bus drivers are victims, not the people who are injured or killed.”

Kahn and other members of Families for Safe Streets met with Gantt earlier today, waiting outside his office while TWU made its case. “We overheard him say, ‘No, I will not jeopardize my constituents,'” Kahn said. “We thought we heard him say that but we couldn’t be sure.”

Gantt told Families for Safe Streets he would not support the TWU’s bill. “He said, ‘I am against this bill,” Kahn said. “‘I cannot in my conscience vote for this bill. I will not support it if it’s the last thing I do.’”

“That stuck with me,” Kahn said. “He’s the head of the transportation committee.”

Streetsblog has put in a call with Gantt’s office for a statement about his position on the bill.

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Cy Vance to Albany: TWU Bill Would Hinder Cases Against Drunk Drivers

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance sent a letter to state lawmakers warning that a bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers at crash scenes would undermine law enforcement’s ability to collect evidence of impaired driving.

The bill, which sailed through the State Senate yesterday with no public notice and without a public hearing, would bar police from detaining many professional drivers — including bus drivers, taxi drivers, and limo drivers — following a crash. Instead, a driver suspected of breaking the law would receive a desk appearance ticket.

The bill passed the Senate at the behest of the Transport Workers Union, which doesn’t think bus drivers who kill and injure people should be subject to charges under the NYC Right of Way Law.

On Tuesday, Vance sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. It read:

Although the amended bill attempts to exclude drivers who may be driving under the influence of alcohol, police officers often conduct field sobriety tests even when there is no immediate suspicion of impairment, and must often wait a significant period of time for the arrival of equipment to conduct those tests. By prohibiting the detention of omnibus drivers at the scene of collisions, the bill prevents law enforcement from gathering evidence vital to bringing criminal charges in appropriate cases.

“In a city full of pedestrians and cyclists, we should be working on ways to make the city safer for New Yorkers, and certainly not promoting changes that would hold some drivers to a lower standard than others,” Vance wrote. “For these reasons, I urge our lawmakers to vote against this bill.”

NYPD and Mayor de Blasio’s office oppose the bill, along with Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The bill is now in the Assembly, where it’s the last day of the 2015 legislative session. Families of people killed by New York City drivers are in Albany today trying to convince Assembly members to stop the bill. You can support them by contacting your representative right now.

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Senate Passes Bill to Prevent Arrests of Bus and Taxi Drivers Who Kill

This afternoon, the New York State Senate passed a bill to provide a broad exemption from certain traffic laws for a large class of professional drivers. If the bill is enacted, police will not be able to detain any bus, taxi, or livery driver who strikes a pedestrian or cyclist with the right of way. These drivers would also not be held at the scene for committing reckless endangerment, assault, or other violations that are outside the scope of the state vehicle and traffic law.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Martin Malave Dilan, passed in a 54-6 vote. Thomas Croci, John DeFrancisco, Kemp Hannon, Brad Hoylman, Liz Krueger, and Daniel Squadron voted against the bill. It now heads to the Assembly, where it is sponsored by Walter T. Mosley and 17 other legislators. Transportation Alternatives has launched a petition to Assembly Members to stop the bill.

The bill restricts officers who respond to crashes between “omnibus operators” — that includes bus drivers, taxi drivers, and livery drivers — and a pedestrian or cyclist. Police would no longer be able to detain the driver at the scene. So long as the driver has a valid license, remains at the scene, is not suspected of being drunk or high, and cooperates with police, law enforcement is only allowed to issue a desk appearance ticket.

TWU Local 100 pushed for the bill in Albany, selling legislators on the idea of exempting MTA bus drivers from the city’s Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor to injure or kill people with the right of way.

As drafted, the bill carves out a far broader exemption, not only for other drivers, but also for other violations. Mayor de Blasio, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Families For Safe Streets, and TA oppose the bill. In a memo to legislators, TA and FSS note:

The bill would create a special treatment for a certain set of drivers, mandating different standards for police practices and how the rules of the road are applied. The bill attempts to micro-manage and hamstring the police in an area where police officers must have some level of discretion. Furthermore, the special treatment it seeks does not include an exception for suspected crimes that include more serious degrees of culpability. A police officer could be forced to provide this special treatment even for a reckless or intentionally violent act by a driver behind the wheel.

The bottom line: Anyone who is paid to drive other people won’t face the same consequences as other drivers for behavior that harms pedestrians or cyclists.

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With Bus Fatalities Down, Albany Shouldn’t Meddle With Right of Way Law

In 2014 MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks. Some of those fatalities occurred after the Right of Way Law took effect last August, and several bus drivers were arrested and charged under the law.

The year is nearly half over, and to this point MTA bus drivers haven’t fatally struck anyone in 2015. It’s a small sample size, but with bus-involved fatalities down, state lawmakers should not tamper with the Right of Way Law.

A bill sponsored by Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley and state Senator Martin Dilan would prohibit police from detaining bus drivers and other for-hire drivers suspected of violating the Right of Way Law. Officers would instead be required to issue a desk appearance ticket when police have “reasonable cause to believe” an “omnibus” driver has committed a “traffic infraction or misdemeanor” in a crash involving a pedestrian or cyclist. If the driver has a valid license, remains at the scene, and cooperates with police, the bill says officers “shall not detain or otherwise prevent” the driver from leaving the scene after police complete an “immediate investigation.”

The bill seems intended to spare bus drivers who injure and kill people the indignity of being placed in cuffs. But its scope is such that it would severely compromise police officers’ ability to get dangerous drivers off the roads.

For one thing, “omnibus” includes not only to MTA bus drivers, but all professional for-hire drivers, including yellow and green taxi drivers, livery drivers, and drivers working for services like Uber and Lyft, anywhere in New York State.

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De Blasio Signs Bill Requiring Side Guards on 10,000 Trucks by 2024

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill yesterday requiring side guards on all large city trucks, and on private garbage trucks operating in New York City, by 2024. When a truck driver strikes someone with the side of the vehicle, the guards prevent people from getting crushed beneath the truck’s rear wheels. They have been proven to reduce deaths and serious injuries where they are used.

The side guards bill covers approximately 10,000 trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds, according to Council Member Corey Johnson, who sponsored the legislation. That breaks down to 4,500 vehicles in the city fleet, including approximately 2,700 Department of Sanitation vehicles, and 5,500 to 6,000 private trash haulers regulated by the Business Integrity Commission.

“[The Department of Citywide Administrative Services] has already begun installing side guards on over 200 city trucks already on the job,” de Blasio said yesterday. “This bill takes this effort to the next level to ensure that all city-owned trucks and commercial garbage trucks are outfitted.”

The eight-year timeline for the new law is intended to let DSNY phase in side guards by requiring them on all new vehicles, a less expensive option than retrofitting existing trucks. Private sanitation haulers, which have older fleets, will likely have to retrofit many of their vehicles to meet the 2024 deadline. The bill passed with the support of the National Waste and Recycling Association, an industry group.

“The best thing to do, of course, is to avoid crashes in the first place,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, “but these side guards are like airbags for pedestrians and cyclists.”

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez revived a push for side guards after cyclist Hoyt Jacobs was killed in Long Island City by a private trash truck driver making a right turn. “Should a side guard have been installed, Hoyt might be with us today,” Rodriguez said at the bill signing.

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Ydanis Rodriguez: “We Should Leave the Right of Way Law As It Is”

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez opposes an amendment to the Right of Way Law that would provide a special exemption for bus drivers.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

“I stand in support of the bill as written,” he told Streetsblog this afternoon. “I think that we should leave the Right of Way Law as it is.”

The Transport Workers Union is seeking an exemption from the law, which makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. The union targeted Rodriguez with a work slowdown in his district this morning. Previously, Rodriguez had not said where he stood on the TWU bill, which is sponsored by 25 of the council’s 51 members.

“My focus is not on changing that bill, but my focus is on what can we correct when it comes to dangerous intersections,” Rodriguez said. “We can focus on how to make streets safer for everyone.”

Rodriguez said he is developing three pieces of legislation to improve conditions for bus drivers and pedestrians alike. One would require DOT to “daylight” dangerous intersections by removing two parking spaces at the corner. Another bill would require DOT to work with MTA to reduce the number of left turns on bus routes. A third bill would call on DOT and MTA to study technology that alerts drivers to pedestrians or cyclists in their blind spots.

While Rodriguez opposes TWU’s attempt to secure a special exemption to the Right of Way Law, he says he has not yet formed an opinion on a bill from Council Member Rory Lancman that would micromanage NYPD’s crash investigations of Right of Way cases.

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TWU Demands to Be Allowed to Kill People Who Have the Right of Way

The Transport Workers Union is making a great case for why the Right of Way Law should apply to all drivers.

The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. As part of its campaign to secure a special exemption for bus drivers, TWU Local 100 launched a work slowdown on 181st Street in Washington Heights this morning. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to the Post, drivers were instructed not to enter crosswalks if pedestrians were present and to come to a complete stop if people were crossing.

The implication: Under normal conditions, maiming and killing pedestrians is the inevitable cost of operating buses.

In a perfect illustration of its disregard for people’s right to cross the street safely, TWU tweeted a photo this morning of a bus operator waiting to turn left as a woman in the crosswalk checked her phone. “Bus waits to take a left turn as oblivious pedestrian crosses intersection,” the union tweeted. The woman had the light — and the right of way.

The union was targeting City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area. Rodriguez himself would not comment for this story, but his spokesperson, Lucas Acosta, said he is undecided on the bus driver exemption. “The council member is exploring all of the legislation regarding the Right of Way Law and has yet to come out in support or opposition,” Acosta said. “He is reviewing the MTA regulations.”

Update 5:43 p.m.: City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez says he opposes amending the Right of Way Law to exempt bus drivers.

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Unions Agree: Let Bus Drivers Kill People With the Right of Way

Unions whose leaders think it’s ok for bus drivers to kill law-abiding New Yorkers

Unions whose leaders think it’s ok for bus drivers to kill law-abiding New Yorkers

Just about all of New York’s major labor unions signed a Transport Workers Union letter demanding that MTA bus drivers be allowed to legally injure and kill people who are walking or biking with the right of way.

The letter, dated June 11, was sent to New York City Council members [PDF]. The unions want the council to pass a bill that would exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way Law.

The letter was signed by heads of the New York State AFL-CIO, the New York City Central Labor Council, the Hotel Trades Council, 1199SEIU, the United Federation of Teachers, the Uniformed Firefighters Association, and others.

One union chief who didn’t sign the letter: Pat Lynch of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, which represents NYPD officers.

After the requisite lip service to “the goal of reducing traffic accidents,” the unions object to “arresting, handcuffing and charging bus operators like common criminals for accidents that do not involve speeding, texting or some other form or demonstrably reckless behavior.”

The implicit meaning of that statement? Hitting and killing someone with the right of way is just an “accident” if you’re driving a bus. Union officials who signed the letter agree with TWU that bus drivers should not be treated like other motorists. “Bus Operators are in a class by themselves,” the letter reads.

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