Right of way law mired in controversy

A law passed in 2014 as part of New York City Mayor De Blasio’s Vision Zero campaign has been under the gun lately. Vision Zero aims to reduce or eliminate traffic and pedestrian fatalities in New York, and this particular law makes it unlawful for drivers to fail to yield to bicyclists or pedestrians who have the right of way. However, according to the New York Daily News, a judge in Queens recently ruled that the right of way law is unconstitutional.

Drivers who violate the right of way law are charged with a misdemeanor. This is true even if the driver causes serious injury to a pedestrian or bicyclist or causes his or her death. People who are found guilty of misdemeanors generally face fines and minimal amounts of jail time.

The judge in this case found that by charging this crime as a misdemeanor, a defendant is denied due process because the standard for proving guilt in a civil action is lower than it would be if the defendant was facing criminal charges. In addition, the judge argued that the standard used in these failure to yield cases violates a defendant’s right against self-incrimination and his or her right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

However, according to Streetsblog, the judge’s ruling will likely not hold up if an appeal is filed. Experts contend that the same standards the judge found unconstitutional in this case are the same ones used in other types of cases such as charges of drunk driving. Interestingly, the right of way law has previously been upheld in another court. It should be noted that the judge’s ruling only applies in Queens and not in other jurisdictions. It remains to be seen whether the decision will be appealed.