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Improper Passing in New Jersey (39:4-85 & 39:4-86)

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Written By 
Last updated 
July 4, 2021

New Jersey is strict about its rules regarding passing other vehicles. Drivers that pass a vehicle going in the same direction on the right can be ticketed for improper passing. Similarly, passing a vehicle proceeding in the opposite direction on the left side is also improper passing.

What Are the Penalties for Improper Passing in New Jersey?

  • Fine: A person convicted of an improper passing ticket in New Jersey can be fined between $50 and $200 per offense.
  • Points: New Jersey assesses 4 points against drivers convicted of improper passing. This can put a person at risk of a surcharge (which happens at 6 points) or having his/her license suspended (12 points).
  • Court costs: Drivers who challenge their New Jersey improper passing ticket will have to pay court costs of $33. This is in addition to the fine and a possible surcharge (see below).
  • Surcharge: Once a driver has 6 or more points on his/her license, he/she must pay an additional surcharge on top of any fines or court costs. A NJ surcharge costs $150 plus an additional $25 for each point over six. This will be billed annually for three years.
  • Auto insurance increase: Passing another car in an illegal or unsafe manner carries a risk of an accident. As such, a driver who pays or is convicted of an improper passing ticket can see insurance rates rise by as much as 20% in some cases.

What Does NJ Consider Improper Passing?

New Jersey has two statutes that govern passing most vehicles, 39:4-85 and 39:4-86. The first codifies the rule that all drivers must pass cars going the same direction on the left. The second defines when a driver may not pass another car at all. This would include:

  • On a hill or curve, or whenever sightlines are impeded.
  • At a street crossing or intersection.
  • At a railroad crossing.
  • On narrow bridges, in an underpass or in a tunnel.
  • When a sign or center line marking restricts passing.
  • When the vehicle in front has stopped to let a pedestrian cross.

In addition, drivers who pass on the left must ensure that it is safe to return to the right lane before doing so. Failure to do so can also result in a ticket as well.

When driving on a road with only one lane in each direction, the law allows a driver to cross into the oncoming lane to pass another vehicle only if it is safe to do so, meaning visibility is good and there are no oncoming vehicles or other obstructions. If those conditions are not true, then this can result in a ticket for improper passing.

Lastly, a driver can pass on the right of a vehicle that is making a left-hand turn. However, the vehicle may not leave the roadway (i.e. drive on the shoulder or sidewalk) to do so, and can only do so if it is safe.

Can My License Be Suspended for Improper Passing?

A suspended license is not formally listed as a penalty for improper passing. However, any judge can revoke a license if he/she feels the driver commits a traffic violation “willfully.” Whether a judge will do this in response to an improper passing ticket will depend on the facts of the case, the driver’s record, and many other factors.

Defenses to Improper Passing

The statutes that describe New Jersey’s passing laws outline a variety of situations in which drivers are and are not permitted to pass another vehicle. Proving one is innocent of an improper passing charge depends on which statute the driver was charged under and the circumstances of the case. For example, if a driver is charged for passing a vehicle on the right, he/she would need to prove that the vehicle being passed was making a left-hand turn. Likewise, a driver who is charged for crossing a double-yellow line and entering an oncoming traffic lane would need to prove that it was safe to do so and that signage or road markings did not forbid passing of any sort.

If the facts of the case are insufficient to prove that the driver did not violate the statute, it may be possible to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the charge to a lesser offense, such as careless driving, unsafe driving, or failing to signal. Whether a prosecutor or judge will be willing to accept a reduction will depend on many factors.

What If I Was Issued an Improper Passing Ticket in Connection with an Accident?

Many traffic accidents result in one or more drivers receiving traffic tickets. When this happens, especially if there is serious property damage and/or injuries, it is imperative that a person get the ticket dismissed. That’s because a conviction for an accident-related traffic offense can be used as evidence of liability in a civil lawsuit or personal injury case. Having the ticket reduced to a lesser violation does not eliminate said liability.

That said, if there is little or no chance of beating an improper passing ticket issued as part of an accident, then a driver must request civil reservations upon entering a plea. A civil reservation is a legal option that allows a driver to accept the penalties of a traffic ticket without agreeing to the associated liability of being found guilty. A driver should consult with an attorney before making this decision.

Why Hire an Attorney for an Improper Passing Ticket NJ?

An improper passing ticket is a 4-point offense and is considered a serious traffic violation. In addition to the fine and the risk it carries of being hit with a surcharge or license suspension, it can have a serious impact on one’s auto insurance premiums. This is especially true if the ticket stems from a collision.

As such, it is critical that any driver ticketed for improper passing in New Jersey consult with an experienced traffic ticket attorney. An attorney can assess the facts of the case to determine the defense that is most likely to have the best outcome. Moreover, the attorney can handle a great deal of the interaction with the prosecutor and judge, while also coaching the driver on how to respond in court so as to not accidentally incriminate oneself (which can happen innocently enough).

Common Questions About Improper Passing in NJ

  • Can I go over the speed limit to pass another vehicle?

    Technically, no. Any time a driver exceeds the posted limit, it carries a risk of getting a speeding ticket.

  • What if I had to pass another vehicle in order to avoid an accident?

    Improper passing, like most traffic infractions, is a strict liability offense. This means that even if the driver had justification for doing so if they committed the infraction they can still be found guilty. All the prosecution has to prove is that the person passed improperly, whether they had good reason to do so is irrelevant.

  • Why does improper passing carry so many points?

    Illegal passing is a major cause of traffic accidents. The high point value is intended to deter drivers from passing vehicles in an unsafe manner.

  • When can I pass on the right in NJ?

    If another vehicle is about to make a left turn––or there are at least two lanes of traffic proceeding in that direction––then a driver is allowed to pass on the right. However, a driver may not leave the roadway to do so. In addition, a driver may pass any vehicle traveling in the opposite direction on the right.

  • Is it illegal to prevent another vehicle from passing me?

    Yes. Under N.J.S.A. 39:4-87 a vehicle that is being overtaken must give way to the passing vehicle. The law specifically says that any effort—including speeding up—to prevent the passing vehicle from overtaking safely can result in a ticket.

Who Should I Contact About My Improper Passing Ticket?

If you or a loved one has been ticketed for improper passing or for any other serious traffic offense in New Jersey, you need the help of a skilled attorney. The lawyers at Rosenblum Law are experienced traffic ticket attorneys who have helped many drivers beat improper passing tickets and other serious charges in New York and New Jersey. Email Rosenblum Law or Call 888-883-5529 today for a free consultation about your case.

Author Bio

Adam H. Rosenblum

Founding Attorney Of Rosenblum Law

Adam H. Rosenblum is an experienced and skilled traffic violations and criminal defense attorney. Mr. Rosenblum provides expert and aggressive representation to those facing points on their drivers’ licenses and the associated fines and surcharges.

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