The dangers of the countdown clock Op-Ed

| 11 Apr 2016 | 04:44

Imagine that you are on your morning walk to work, the same walk you take each and every day. When you get to the intersection, the countdown clock at the crosswalk has already begun, but according to the sign you have still have 16 seconds to make it across before the red hand stops flashing. So, like any New Yorker would, you begin crossing the street. But this day, out of nowhere, a car making a left turn slams into you, throwing you to the ground.

According to current New York City law, if that tragedy occurs and you, or someone else is hit by a car while crossing the street under the exact same scenario, you are at fault, not the driver.

Common sense dictates that the entire point of having countdown clocks at intersections is to tell pedestrians how much time they have to safely make it across a crosswalk. But common sense would fail you here.

That is why my office introduced a new bill in November that will change this outdated law that shields drivers from being held accountable if they hit a pedestrian who leaves the sidewalk when the crossing signal shows a blinking “don’t walk” sign or a countdown clock. This bill, which is supported by the NYPD, the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT), and 34 City Council members, makes a consequential but simple fix to an issue that should be clear for drivers and pedestrians alike: when a pedestrian is in a crosswalk, unless the crossing signal specifically prohibits that person from walking, he or she has the right of way.

In January and February of this year alone, 22 pedestrians were killed in traffic-related incidents and almost 2,000 pedestrians were injured, indicating just how desperately we need to fix our ambiguous and outdated laws to protect the millions of pedestrians who traverse New York City’s streets every day.

But we also need to ensure that when a crash or a fatality does occur, the driver is not let off the hook because of a loophole in an outdated law that was created decades ago. No longer should a driver who injures or kills a pedestrian face no consequences for a reckless or dangerous decision.

This is just one critical component of our efforts to achieve Vision Zero. Last August, my office introduced two bills to protect pedestrians and drivers. The first bill would require the DOT to establish protected left turn signals at our most unsafe intersections for pedestrians. According to a report commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, New York State has the most pedestrian fatalities caused by left-turning vehicles of any state in the country. And according to the New York City DOT, left-turn pedestrian collisions outnumber right-turn collisions 3-to-1. These left turn signals would make it very clear to both pedestrians and drivers when a driver has the right of way to make the turn.

The second bill will require the DOT to provide reports on all pedestrian right-of-way violations to identify intersections requiring better safety measures. This will allow the DOT to target the most dangerous intersections in the City and implement the necessary measures to make those intersections safer for all who use them.

Too many pedestrians are killed and injured crossing New York City’s streets, and there are simple, common sense reforms to protect them. By ensuring that pedestrians have the right of way when a countdown clock is running, we are updating the law to reflect the reality of crossing streets in our City. By protecting left turn signals, we are focusing on the most dangerous intersections in New York City. And by requiring up to date reporting, we are ensuring that safety measures adequately meet our needs. Only through updates to our laws, proper enforcement, and education will we truly achieve Vision Zero.