By: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq. | Last Updated:
A driver misses his/her turn and decides to make a U-turn, only to be pulled over by a police officer. Another driver makes a left turn at an intersection with a sign indicating no left turns. A third driver is in a right-turn lane but realizes too late he/she wants to go straight, and so continues forward and merges back into the lane to the left. All three are examples of improper turns in New York State. New York’s Vehicle & Traffic Law section 1160 covers left turns, right turns, and U-turns. There are five specific types of improper turns, each of which carries the same penalties.
What Are the Penalties for an Improper Turn in NY?
Fine: An improper turn ticket in NY can cost up to $150 for a first offense. A second offense for an improper turn in 18 months can cost up to $300. A third offense can cost up to $450.
Surcharge: Drivers convicted of an improper turn in NY will have to pay a mandatory state surcharge. This costs $88 or $93 depending on where the driver was ticketed.
Driver Responsibility Assessment Fee (DRA): Drivers who accrue 6 or more points in 18 months as a result of traffic convictions are required to pay an additional fine known as the Driver Responsibility Assessment (DRA) fee. This penalty costs $300 plus $75 for each point after six. A DRA is paid directly to the DMV and is separate from fines associated with the ticket.
Points: Each conviction for an improper turn in NY results in 2 points on one’s license. Points accumulate for 18 months and too many can lead to additional fines (see above) and a possible suspended license.
Auto insurance increase: Making an improper turn—be it an illegal U-turn or an illegal left down a one-way street—carries a high risk of causing an auto accident. As such, insurance companies take such tickets seriously and can raise rates by as much as 20% for a first offense.
Defenses to Improper Turn Tickets in New York
The defense to an improper turn ticket will depend on the facts of the case. For example, a ticket for an illegal U-turn could be dismissed if the driver can show that there is no signage (or the signage is not clearly visible to a reasonable person) indicating that U-turns are not permitted in the area. However, it is not always possible to prevent prosecutors from proving that a driver made an improper turn. In most cases, the best scenario is to negotiate with prosecutors to reduce the ticket to a no-point, non-moving violation that will not impact one’s auto insurance rates. This is not easy for the average driver to do, as most prosecutors know that a driver stands little chance of beating a ticket at trial (not to mention the trial requires a full day off from work, which is not always easy to do).
For all these reasons and more, a driver should hire a skilled traffic ticket attorney to handle the case for him/her. An attorney will have the best chance of getting the ticket reduced since the prosecutor will not want to risk losing a case at trial. Even better, if the driver has a valid case that could get the ticket dismissed, an attorney will know exactly how to present the facts so as to have the best chance of convincing the judge to dismiss the ticket. In most cases, an attorney can appear in court in lieu of the driver, meaning he/she won’t have to take time off from work or arrange of care of young children in order to fight the ticket.
Types of Improper Turn Tickets in New York
Under VTL 1160, there are five types of improper turn tickets. They are:
- 1160(a): Improper right turn. “Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway or, where travel on the shoulder or slope has been authorized, from the shoulder or slope.”
- 1160(b): Improper left turn (two-way street). “At any intersection where traffic is permitted to move in both directions on each roadway entering the intersection, an approach for a left turn shall be made in that portion of the right half of the roadway nearest the center line thereof and by passing to the right of such center line where it enters the intersection and after entering the intersection the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection to the right of the center line of the roadway being entered. Whenever practicable the left turn shall be made in that portion of the intersection to the left of the center of the intersection.”
- 1160(c): Improper left turn (one-way street). “At any intersection where traffic is restricted to one direction on one or more of the roadways, the driver of a vehicle intending to turn left at any such intersection shall approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane of the roadway lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of such vehicle or, where travel on the shoulder or slope has been authorized, from the shoulder or slope, and after entering the intersection the left turn shall be made so as to leave the intersection, as nearly as practicable, in the left-hand lane lawfully available to traffic moving in such direction upon the roadway being entered.”
- 1160(d): Failed to turn as required. This is for drivers who are in a turn lane or other situations when they should make a turn but do not. The law states: “When markers, buttons, signs, or other markings are placed within or adjacent to intersections and thereby require and direct that a different course from that specified in this section be traveled by vehicles turning at an intersection, no driver of a vehicle shall turn a vehicle at an intersection other than as directed and required by such markers, buttons, signs, or other markings.”
- 1160(e): U-turns. “U-turns shall be made from and to that portion of the highway nearest the marked center line. Where more than one lane of a highway has been designated for left turns, U-turns shall be made only from the lane so designated that is adjacent to the marked center line.”
There are other laws that also govern turns in specific scenarios. For example, VTL 1161(a) prohibits U-turns on hills or on roads that are curved. This is because such geographic scenarios make it difficult to see if other vehicles are approaching and for those approaching vehicles to slow down in time for a vehicle making a U-turn. Similarly, VTL 1161(b) makes it illegal to make a U-turn in a school zone. The penalties for these offenses are the same as those under section 1160: $150 maximum fine for a first offense and 2 points upon conviction.
What Are the Basic Regulations When Making Turns In New York?
For U-Turns remember:
- U-turns should always be made from the furthermost left lane and into the furthermost left lane when it is permissible by law. Always looks to see if there are any signs that are posted banning U-turns.
For right turns remember:
- Drivers should approach and make a right turn as close as practicably possible to the right-hand curb
- Remember to always use turn signals at least 100 feet before making the right turn.
- At the traffic signal, a driver who is able to turn right on red must yield the right of way to oncoming traffic.
For Left turns remember:
- Check for any signs that might prohibit one from making a left turn.
- Unless the driver has a green left-turn arrow indicating he/she can make the left turn, he/she must yield to oncoming traffic at a traffic signal.
- Also, remember to use a turn signal at least 100 feet before making the left turn.
An Improper Turn Can Lead to a Criminal Charge (Pretextual Stops)
Drivers who are pulled over for an improper turn can sometimes be exposed to possible criminal charges. In New York State, it is legal for police to conduct what is called a pretextual stop. In other words, the officer pulled over the driver for an allegedly valid traffic violation and then casually observed evidence of possible criminal activity. This could include the smell of marijuana, or clearly visible drug paraphernalia or weapons. As long as the supposed evidence is in “plain sight” (i.e. the officer does not have to search the car to find it) then it can be used to file a criminal charge. Drivers should always be aware of when an officer can and cannot search a vehicle, and should contact an attorney right away if a traffic stop leads to criminal charges.
This was the case in People v. Young, 96 Misc. 2d 710. Police pulled over a driver for an improper right turn. Upon approaching the vehicle, the officer stated that he had seen the passenger reaching under the seat so as to store or retrieve an item. Officers ordered both driver and passenger out of the car at gunpoint. The officers then searched the area of the car where the passenger had been reaching and found a gun and several envelopes of alleged heroin. This prompted a fuller search that turned up more heroin, needles, and other drug paraphernalia. The defendant contested the criminal charges on the basis of the evidence being uncovered in an illegal search, claiming the police did not have reasonable suspicion simply because the passenger was reaching underneath the seat. The court rejected this argument, stating the plainly visible act of placing something out of sight of the police to be reason enough for police to suspect the object(s) in question to be possible evidence of a crime.
Data on Improper Turns in New York
According to DMV data, more than 48,000 tickets for improper turns were issued in 2018 in New York State. This is slightly greater than the number of tickets issued for such offenses in 2017 (45,022). In fact, tickets for improper turns in New York State have been on the rise for the past 10 years. In 2009, drivers received just 18,000 tickets for improper turns, making up just 0.4% of all tickets issued that year. By 2018, improper turn tickets not only more than doubled, but they also constituted more than 1.3% of traffic tickets issued in the state.
Improper Turn Tickets in New York State 2009 – 2018
More than 80% of improper turn tickets were issued in New York City. Manhattan by far had the most, with 23,536 such tickets. No other NY county came close. The second-most improper turn tickets were in the Bronx, where drivers received 6,486. It is followed by Brooklyn, which saw 5,785 last year.
Common Questions About Improper Turns in New York
- Are U-turns illegal in New York?
It depends. A U-turn is technically permissible when the driver is making the turn to and from the lane nearest the marked center line between traffic going in different directions. When there are two turn lanes, the driver must be in the leftmost such turn lane and only turn into the leftmost lane in the opposite direction. However, a driver must be cognizant of signage that may make U-turns illegal at some intersections. In addition, a U-turn is always illegal in a school zone.
- How much is a wrong turn ticket in NYC?
An improper turn ticket in New York City and elsewhere in the state costs up to $150 for a first offense. A conviction means 2 points on one’s license.
- Can you turn right on red in New York?
In most parts of New York State, a right on red is permissible if the driver comes to a complete stop and there is no traffic in the lane into which one is making a turn. However, drivers should keep in mind:
Some intersections may have No Right on Red signs that prohibit making a turn until the light has turned green.
In New York City, the opposite is true: a right on red is never permissible except where signage indicates it to be legal.
- Is not being from NYC or being licensed in a different state a valid defense to an improper turn ticket?
No. In New York State (including NYC), drivers are expected to know the rules of the road. A more likely defense would be if the kind of turn in question is normally permissible, but the signage indicating that it was not allowed at this intersection was missing or hidden from view. For this to work, one must have evidence of such claims.
Who Should I Contact for Help with an Improper Turn Ticket in NY?
If you or someone you love has been ticketed for an improper turn, consult with an attorney to see whether you should fight your ticket. Moving violations can have a major impact on your license and insurance rates. Contact Rosenblum Law today and find out how our team of skilled NY traffic ticket attorneys can help you fight your ticket. We have represented thousands of clients over the years and have saved clients from losing their license and hundreds of dollars in fines and increases to their insurance.