What Is the New York City Right-Of-Way Law?

New York City is one of the most densely populated and busiest cities on the planet and traffic congestion is one of the leading causes of accidental injuries throughout the city. One of the main reasons behind the staggering number of pedestrian accidents in New York City is drivers failing to yield the right-of-way to pedestrians. The New York City Right-of-Way law makes it a misdemeanor offense to fail to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian in the crosswalk.

About 15,000 bicyclists and pedestrians suffer injuries in New York City every year. This new Right-of-Way law encourages drivers to use extra caution around pedestrians. Some professional bus drivers’ groups in New York City are arguing they should have an exemption from these new restrictions, claiming they interfere with drivers’ ability to perform their jobs and disrupt the flow of traffic.

Penalties for Right-Of-Way Violations

A driver who fails to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian but does not cause an injury may still receive a fine of up to $100 if a police officer observes the incident. A first offense that results in physical injury may lead to a fine of up to $250 and up to 30 days in jail, but jail time is unlikely for most first-time offenders. However, the driver will still be responsible for the victim’s civil damages. Serious injuries may qualify the victim to hire an NYC personal injury lawyer and file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver if insurance can’t cover the victim’s losses.

It’s important to note that a driver does not have to be intentionally reckless or cause an injury to face arrest for a right-of-way violation. A police officer who observes a driver negligently failing to yield to a pedestrian or cyclist with the right-of-way can arrest the offending driver on the spot.

How to Determine Right-Of-Way and Violations

A pedestrian has the right-of-way at the crosswalk when the “Walk” signal appears. If a pedestrian enters the crosswalk when it reads “Don’t Walk,” there is an expectation for drivers to still avoid hitting these pedestrians but a pedestrian who does so will likely absorb at least some liability for the resulting damages. When a crosswalk signal shows “Walk,” the pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right-of-way. Even if a driver intends to make a legal turn, he or she must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Opponents of the new law often cite their vehicles’ blind spots as justification for the exemption. Many bus drivers argue that they shouldn’t be liable for accidents that happen when pedestrians enter their blind spots. However, bus drivers are common carriers that must meet a higher duty of care than other drivers on the road since they drive as a paid service. Bus drivers, truck drivers, construction vehicle drivers, and all other drivers know about blind spots, and it is each individual driver’s obligation to account for blind spots during every trip.

The New York Right-of-Way law does not offer any total exemptions, even to city and state employees who drive for their jobs. They have some protection for situations when they have no control over the vehicle and ambulance drivers and some city repair equipment drivers may have an exemption when they can prove they used due care.

Police officers can use their own discretion when deciding whether to arrest a driver who committed a right-of-way violation. In the event of an honest mistake, the driver may simply receive a fine and a Desk Appearance Ticket without worrying about arrest. However, the officer has the right to place the driver under arrest if he or she deems the driver was excessively negligent.