Relatives of people slain in traffic crashes confronted a city lawmaker for his bill that would exempt MTA bus drivers from a key law in the city's Vision Zero road safety program.
Members of Families for Safe Streets, an advocacy group, expressed their disapproval of the bill from Councilman I. Daneek Miller to the lawmaker at an unrelated news conference on transit funding Monday morning.
The bill that has steadily gained support within the council would exempt bus drivers from a "right of way" law that creates a misdemeanor for crashes that injure or kill pedestrians and bicyclists when the driver fails to "exercise due care."
Mary Beth Kelly, who lost her husband Dr. Carl Henry Nacht when a tow-truck driver struck him while the couple was bicycling on the West Side Highway, had asked Miller about holding bus drivers to a higher standard.
"You want to get in the way of a misdemeanor," she said.
"We aren't interested in punishment [for bus drivers] ," she added. "We're interested in accountability."
Miller, a former bus driver and union official, defended his legislation, noting that MTA drivers are already held to tough standards for a difficult and stressful job. Union members last month explained how some bus models on the road create a dangerous blind spot for drivers.
"We are not a city of criminalization," he told the activists.
Miller had met with Families for Safe Streets, but not the members who attended the news conference with him and other council members, according to an aide.
So far, six of 22 people arrested under the "right of way" law were MTA bus drivers, NYPD said late last month.
"Vision Zero needs to be about education, not criminalization. It's about sharing roads and promoting safety for pedestrians, motorists, and all others. These accidents are tragedies for everyone involved," Miller said in a statement afterward. "Bus operators are already held to the highest standards. To criminalize them without considering issues with street and bus design is to put the cart before the horse."
Another member of Families for Safe Streets, Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy Eckstein, was killed on Prospect Park West, had asked Miller to keep those who died in car accidents in mind.
"Once you open the door for one exception, more will come," she said.
After the news conference, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, who chairs the council's transportation committee, told amNewYork he backs the right of way law to penalize careless drivers who injure or kill on the road, but wants to reach a compromise. He plans to hold a hearing on the issue later this year.
"In cases of bus drivers who are involved in the accident, I hope to see an investigation to take place before anyone is arrested," he said.