Improper Passing Tickets in New York – VTL 1121 – 1124

Author: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq. | Last Updated:

New York State has several violations for improper passing. Despite each violation involving different specific actions, the fines and penalties are identical for each. Violations that could be construed as improper passing include:

improper passing

  • Failed to yield one half of roadway (VTL 1121)
  • Overtaking bicycle (VTL 1122-a)
  • Left pavement to pass on right (VTL 1123-b)
  • Unsafe passing (VTL 1124)

What Are the Penalties for Improper Passing in NY?

  • Fines: A conviction for improper passing in New York costs up to $150 for a first offense. A second offense in 18 months costs up to $300. A third offense within 18 months costs up to $450.
  • Points: Improper passing tickets carry 3 points. This is true regardless of which statute one violated.
  • Surcharge: Drivers convicted of improper passing in NY are obligated to pay a state surcharge of $88 or $93, depending on where the offense occurred. This is in addition to the fine and any other penalties.
  • Driver Responsibility Assessment (DRA) fee: When a driver is convicted of a ticket or tickets totaling 6 or more points in NY, he/she must pay a Driver Responsibility Assessment (DRA) fee. This fee is paid directly to the DMV and is in addition to the fine for the offense. DRAs cost $300 plus an additional $75 for each point over six.
  • Auto insurance increase: Improper passing tickets can raise insurance rates by as much as 14%. This is because such offenses are strongly associated with many traffic accidents (see data below).

What is Considered Improper Passing in New York?

A driver can be ticketed for improper passing for a variety of unsafe actions. These include:

  • On narrow roads, not providing enough space for oncoming drivers (VTL 1121)
  • Merging back into the right lane too soon after passing (VTL 1122-a & 1124)
  • Passing on the right when it is unsafe to do so (VTL 1123-b)
  • Leaving the pavement (on sidewalk or grass) in order to pass on the right (VTL 1123-b)
  • Interfering with oncoming traffic in order to pass on the left (VTL 1124)
  • Entering oncoming traffic and allowing one’s vehicle to come closer than 200 ft. of approaching vehicles (VTL 1124)
  • Attempting to pass on a curve or hill (VTL 1124)
  • Passing where signage clearly indicates it is not allowed (VTL 1124)

Should I Plead Guilty to My Improper Passing Ticket? The Impact of an Improper Passing Ticket on an Auto Accident Case

In addition to the prospect of receiving penalties outlined above, there’s another lesser-known impact of a guilty plea in an improper passing case that involves an auto accident. If a person pleads guilty to a traffic violation and is also sued in civil court for negligence as a result of an auto accident, that guilty plea can be allowed into court as evidence of their guilt and can make it harder or even impossible to backpedal and claim that there was no negligence. So for example, say you pled guilty to improper passing and were sued civilly by a person who was injured in an accident in which you side-swiped their vehicle, they can use your guilty plea against you in civil court as proof that you admitted that you improperly passed their vehicle and as a result your vehicles collided and they were injured. This is yet another reason it is strongly recommended to not plead guilty to a traffic ticket, especially one involving an auto accident, but even when no accident is involved.

Should I Hire an Attorney for My Improper Passing Ticket?

Improper passing tickets can be defended in traffic court if the facts of the case are in favor of the driver. However, knowing how to present those facts in such a way that will convince a judge is not easy. Drivers who wish to defeat an improper passing ticket in New York would be well advised to hire an experienced traffic court attorney. An attorney will be able to assess the facts of the case to determine if the driver can have the ticket dismissed or if it makes more sense to enter a plea deal with prosecutors (where possible). If the ticket can be beaten, an attorney offers one’s best chance at doing so. Experienced traffic ticket attorneys may also have a positive reputation with New York’s many traffic court judges, which ensures their arguments are given full consideration.

Improper Passing Case Law

In the case of People v Falsey, a Greyhound bus driver was charged with violating VTL 1124 when he attempted to pass two cars and a truck when said truck began to make a left turn. As a result, the bus driver collided with the truck, damaging the left side door and front fender. The bus driver was initially convicted, but won an appeal on the grounds that the offense did not violate the conditions of statute 1124.

VTL 1124 states:

Limitations on overtaking on the left. No vehicle shall be driven to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction unless such left side is clearly visible and is free of oncoming traffic for a sufficient distance ahead to permit such overtaking and passing to be completely made without interfering with the safe operation of any vehicle approaching from the opposite direction or any vehicle overtaken.

The appellant judge noted that the driver, despite taking unsafe action in attempting to pass three vehicles by entering the left lane, did not interfere with oncoming traffic. The judge also noted that the actions may have constituted a violation of VTL 1122-a, but this was not the offense the bus driver had been charged with. The facts, as presented, indicated that the left side was clearly visible and free of oncoming traffic. The bus driver also did not interfere with oncoming vehicles, but rather with a vehicle on the right-hand side attempting to make a left. As such, the prosecution was not able to make the case that the driver had violated VTL 1124 and vacated the conviction.

Data on Improper Passing in NY

NYS DMV data does not have data on improper passing tickets. In addition, improper passing is combined with unsafe lane change in accident data. The offenses combined were associated with 57,468 accidents in 2018. This makes it among the fourth-most common contributing factor in crashes statewide. Among those crashes, 128 were fatal, which also makes it the fourth-most common cause of death on the road.

Common Questions About Improper Passing Tickets in New York

  • What shape is a No Passing sign?

    Pennant-shaped (sideways triangle) traffic signs indicate no passing zones.

  • Can you pass a car turning left in NY?

    Drivers can pass a vehicle turning left if there is a lane or ample paved shoulder space to the right of the left-turning vehicle. However, drivers may not drive onto an unpaved shoulder to pass on the right. Further, drivers can only pass if it is safe to do so (meaning there are no pedestrians, construction workers, parked cars, or approaching vehicles).

  • When can you pass a car on the right in NY?

    It is legal to pass on the right when it is safe to do so and if the driver does not drive on an unpaved shoulder.

  • When is it not OK to pass on the left in NY?

    Drivers should not pass on the left if it will interfere with oncoming traffic or if the driver is unable to see far enough ahead to determine if it is safe (i.e. on a blind curve or hill). In addition, drivers cannot pass on the left if a vehicle is making a left turn.

  • Is driving on the shoulder the same as improper passing? 

    No, but it is illegal in NY. Driving on the shoulder is a violation of VTL 1131. It costs up to $150 for a first offense and carries 2 points.

Who Should I Contact for Help with My Improper Passing Ticket?

If you or someone you love has been charged with improper turn or any other traffic ticket in New York or New Jersey, contact the Rosenblum Law for help. Our experienced traffic ticket attorneys with can assess the facts of the case and determine the best way to minimize or avoid the consequences of a conviction. Email or Call 888-883-5529 for a free consultation about your case.