By: Adam H. Rosenblum Esq. | Last Updated:
Anyone who has ever loaded up their backseat with so much stuff that they can barely see out the rear window should be aware that they are committing a traffic violation. Under VTL 1213 Driver’s View Obstructed, any time a person can’t see out of the windshield, side view or rearview mirrors, he/she can get hit with a summons for having an obstructed view.
What Does the Law Say About Obstruction of Driver’s View or Driving Mechanism?
Under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1213, it is against the law to have an obstruction to a driver’s view or driving mechanism. The law states under section (a) of 1213 that “[n]o person shall drive a motor vehicle when it is so loaded, or when there are in the front seat such number of persons as to obstruct the view of the driver to the front or sides of the vehicle or as to interfere with the driver’s control over the driving mechanism of the vehicle. In no event shall there be more than three persons in the front seat of any vehicle, except where such seat has been constructed to accommodate more than three persons and there are eighteen inches of seating capacity for each passenger or occupant in said front seat.” In addition, section (b) also states that a “passenger in a vehicle shall not ride in such a position as to interfere with the driver’s view ahead or to the sides, or to interfere with his control over the driving mechanism of the vehicle.”
How Much Obstruction is Illegal under NY’s ‘Obstructed View’ Law?
The answer is, shockingly, “not much.” The sad reality is that a driver can receive a ticket for nothing more than that dancing hula doll in the back window or for hanging a pair of fuzzy dice from the mirror. It may seem petty, but the number of people ticketed for things like a simple air freshener is surprisingly high. In fact, anyone who has ever had or currently uses a handicapped parking tag may have noticed that the tag specifically states to take it down while driving and only hang it after parking.
Can Ice or Snow on the Windshield Mean an Obstructed View Ticket?
Yes! In the winter season, many drivers also find themselves with tickets for an obstructed view because they failed to clear off all the snow or ice from their car. Don’t forget about that pile of snow on the roof, too! Should it slide down the rear window while driving, a person could skid right into a costly ticket.
People Can Also Be an Obstruction!
As indicated by the statute, having too many people in the car can result in a ticket as well. For example, having a third person in the front seat can be considered an obstruction (unless the car has old-school bench seats designed for a third person upfront). Likewise, a driver may want to think twice about asking his pro-wrestler buddy to squeeze into the middle rear seat of his sedan; those massive shoulders and head could be grounds for a citation.
Impact on Criminal Law: Pretextual Stops
The courts have ruled that a pretextual stop is legal. A pretextual stop is when an officer pulls over a driver for a minor traffic violation and then proceeds to investigate an unrelated, suspected criminal offense. Therefore, something as minor as an obstructed view can be reason enough for a police officer to pull over a vehicle, even if the driver isn’t doing anything else wrong (e.g. speeding). Once the vehicle is pulled over the police will often be on the lookout for other things that seem amiss, such as the smell of alcohol or marijuana, the presence of drugs, or weapons that are in plain view. The plain view doctrine states that anything that an officer can see through the car windows is considered fair game. If the officer sees any such illegality it can lead to criminal charges for drug possession or weapons possession.
It’s Not Just the View: Obstructed Control
VTL 1213 covers more than just the driver’s ability to see out of the windows and utilize the mirrors; it also makes it a violation to allow a person or object to obstruct control of the vehicle. For example, having a small dog on one’s lap can limit one’s ability to steer, and thusly result in a ticket. The example above about having too many people in the front seat can also potentially obstruct control.
What Are the Penalties for an Obstructed View ticket?
A ticket for an obstructed view means facing a fine of up to $150 with an NYS surcharge of $88 or $93 (depending on where the ticket was issued) and 2 points on one’s license. A second offense in 18 months can mean a fine of up to $300 fine and a third offense costs as much as $450. If you or someone you love has been ticketed for an obstructed view, you need to help of a skilled attorney to avoid the fees and points that come with a conviction. The lawyers of the Rosenblum Law are experienced traffic ticket attorneys with offices in New York and New Jersey. Email or call 888-883-5229 for a free consultation about your case.