It’s easy for experienced drivers to think they know the rules of the road. But traffic laws in New York City and the New York State at large can be complicated. Here are eight things even savvy drivers don’t always know.
1 - Green Doesn’t Always Mean Go.
A driver is waiting at a light in New York City. The light turns green and the driver moves ahead. However, due to traffic backed up to the crosswalk at the light ahead, the driver knows he/she cannot get all the way through the intersection. This can land someone a ticket. Obstructing an intersection (also known as a “spillback” ticket) is a moving violation worth two points. In the City, a driver can be ticketed under NYC Traffic Regulation 4-07(b)(2) (it can also be charged as a parking ticket with 0 points). There is also a state-level statute—VTL 1175—that applies to drivers who are ticketed for this offense anywhere in the state.
The good news: This rule does not apply to drivers who are turning into the intersection. The bad news: Not all officers know this and sometimes a driver who is “blocking the box” while trying to turn gets ticketed anyway. When this happens, a driver absolutely must fight the ticket since the NYS statute specifically exempts turning.
2 - Parking Tickets Should Not Be Handled in Traffic Court.
Moving violations are called such because generally the vehicle has to be in motion for the violation to apply. There are often tickets written for parking violations (e.g. stopping in the crosswalk) that are handled in traffic court—but that’s not where parking tickets should be heard. Those should be sent to the NYC Parking Violation Tribunal under the Offices of the Department of Finance. If a ticket is issued under Section 408 of NYC traffic rules, a clever lawyer can argue the charge should be dismissed. Although the judge can transfer it, most won’t.
3 - There’s an Easy Way Out of a Driving Without Insurance Charge (But Not Everyone Can Use it)
A driver charged with operating without insurance is subject to an automatic one-year revocation and the judge has no say over this punishment. However, there is a potential way out of this: A driver who only borrowed the vehicle can claim he/she never knew the car wasn’t insured. If found to be true, this would be a valid defense generally resulting in the charge being thrown out. It’s up to the judge to make a determination on this point so it’s not guaranteed that a judge will rule favorably, of course.
But a person shouldn’t do this unless he/she is aware the owner of said car may suffer a one-year revocation. After all, a judge can use this situation to put the onus on the owner. Unfortunately, claiming ignorance will usually not help the owner of an uninsured vehicle. Under the rule of strict liability, it is always assumed the driver is aware of whether or not the car is properly insured. The owner can rebut this presumption but it’s an uphill battle.
4 - Judges Don’t Know Everything
Judges and magistrates sometimes deal with a lot of technical things, particularly when it comes to registration violations. For example, the license plate law says there has to be a light and the license must be conspicuously displayed. But what if the plate is vertical instead of horizontal? It can still be read but could it be a violation? The law isn’t as clear as a judge would like it to be. There are also questions regarding classes of licenses. There are three or four classes of motorcycles. What kind license do you need? A judge may not know, which can work to one’s advantage. Sometimes the defense lawyer has to “educate” the judge, and this is another reason why having an experienced traffic ticket attorney on your side is a good idea.
5 - A Driver Can Lose Their License Before Reaching 11 Points
The NY point system and the associated penalties (i.e. fines, suspension and the Driver Responsibility Assessment) were designed as a deterrent to dangerous behavior. However, a judge does not have to wait until a driver reaches 11 points to issue a suspension. For example, a person who crossed a double yellow line and ran a red light would be facing five points. But if the person’s driving record shows a history of serious infractions—even if the points no longer count toward the total—and/or the driver’s attitude demonstrates a callousness to the severity of their behavior, the judge can determine them to be unsafe to drive and suspend the license. The risk of license suspension is yet another reason to hire an attorney to defend you.
6 - Postponements Are Limited and Should be Requested Wisely
A person can walk into traffic court on any day and either plead guilty or ask for an adjournment of their court date “for good cause.” A driver has a limited number of times they can request an adjournment, so it’s best to know when and when not to request a postponement. A traffic ticket lawyer who is familiar with a particular violations bureau’s judges and police officers is in the best position to make that call - they will usually know which officers are around that day and which aren’t. They also know the various judges preferences and pet peeves - which judges are likely to convict, what their individual standards of proof are for various violations, etc. Simply requesting a postponement as a blind approach to hoping the police officer won’t show up can work, but in most cases does not.
7 - There Are No Plea Bargains in NYC (But There is Something You Can Do)
Lawyers who practice in New York City know the Traffic Violations Bureau does not allow tickets to be negotiated down to lower offenses. But there is a way to potentially get points reduced for a speeding ticket. It’s called amending the charge based on the evidence. This only occurs after a trial. For example, I once presided over a case where the driver was charged with a speeding ticket that was 21 mph over the limit. That’s a six-point ticket. The cop said he was going 61 mph in a 40-mph zone. But he also said that he tested his equipment and it was within a +/- 1 mph tolerance. A smart lawyer will argue that the evidence shows the driver could have been driving at 60 mph, which would only be 20 mph over the limit and thus only four points. This also works when officer makes a visual estimation of a driver’s speed, which is generally seen as having a tolerance of +/- 5 mph. If he’s following and clocking on a speedometer, one could argue for a +/-2 mph tolerance. Again, these are real trial practice tactics and are best handled by those with adequate trial experience. Reading a blog post on how to fly an airplane in a rainstorm doesn’t mean you should jump in the cockpit and try (without adequate training)!
8 - You Can Bring Evidence to Court (But Don’t Expect to See It Again)
Drivers who have dash cam video or other evidence that can be submitted to prove their innocence can bring it to court with them on their date. Make sure to bring the proper equipment to play or display it. In addition, it’s best to not bring the only copy since the court must keep the evidence on file. A word of caution, however: There are times when an uninitiated individual brings evidence to court thinking that it will help their case when in fact it may do just the opposite. What may seem like good proof of innocence to a layperson may, upon further analysis by an expert, be determined to be weak, or worse yet, proof of guilt as opposed to innocence.
Former Judge Deborah Hamsho, Esq. served as Administrative Law Judge and Traffic Adjudications Judge at the Richmond County/Staten Island DMV office from 1995 to 2016. She is a certified mediator and a retired NYS general practitioner. She now lives in the beautiful Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, where she serves her new community, the township of Whitehall, as a mayoral appointee to the Town Board of Ethics.