You’ve seen the bumper stickers on the back of every New York City taxi cab. If you drive a cab yourself, you probably carry this logo around like a tattoo on your backside: “Your choices behind the wheel matter.”
These stickers advertise the City’s “Vision Zero” campaign, now in its fourth year. Vision Zero aims to eliminate all cyclist and pedestrian deaths in New York City.
Drivers and the public alike may debate the merits of Vision Zero and the Mayor’s political agenda. But its impact on drivers is indisputable.
At the direction of the Mayor, the NYPD is writing more traffic tickets. Specifically, they are writing tickets for the violation of “failure to yield to pedestrians.”
As a traffic lawyer, I’ve seen thousands of tickets with this violation in the last few years. Once uncommon, it is now as common as speeding and cell phone tickets. They are easy to get. Whenever you make a turn with a green light at a busy intersection, be extra careful.
You may proceed through a crosswalk while turning, even at a very slow pace, but if you come at all close to pedestrians, you might get a ticket. Some cops will issue tickets even if you’re five or six feet away from pedestrians and moving at a very slow speed. This is a three-point ticket, and it’s most commonly issued at the busiest intersections in Manhattan: 42nd and 7th, 34th and 6th, 37th and 7th, and so on. Many drivers tell me they made their turns safely, with no pedestrians nearby, but still got a ticket.
What’s more, failure to yield violations are often considered “required appearances.” What does this man? It’s a legal term that means the driver is not allowed to plead guilty by mail. In many cases, the driver cannot plead guilty at all.
Traffic judges, as part of Vision Zero, are under pressure to have hearings in tickets involving a failure to yield. The mayor wants the judge to find out from the police officer if pedestrians were struck or injured. If you plead guilty before the hearing date, the police officer won’t be there, and the judge cannot take testimony on this subject.
This may seem a minor detail, but imagine this: If you miss a hearing and are unable to get a new date, you may choose to plead guilty so as to finish the matter and avoid suspension of your license. But some judges may refuse to take your guilty plea due to the “required appearance” nature of the ticket, forcing you to have a hearing — and have your license remain suspended in the meantime, costing you weeks of work.
Be careful driving out there. And if you get a failure to yield ticket, you should consider calling a lawyer. It’s a tough ticket to beat on your own, and it’s three points you don’t need on your license.