Articles Posted in Traffic Violations

2013 saw a huge increase in texting while driving tickets in New York State. There has been a contemporaneous increase in enforcement and the penalties for this traffic infraction since the law was first instituted in 2009. This past year, there were 82% more tickets issued in New York City, and an 89% increase in the counties outside of the City. In almost half of New York’s 62 counties, (26), texting tickets more than doubled. Statewide, police wrote approximately 55,000 texting while driving tickets in 2013, compared with 30,000 in 2012.

In specific counties, Westchester County police issued 2,000 texting infractions last year, which was the most other than Suffolk County outside of New York City. Monroe County came in 3rd at almost 2,000, which was 77% more than 2012, and in fourth place was Erie County. In Dutchess County, the number of texting tickets increased more than 50% from 419 to 854 from 2012 to 2013, and in Rockland County, the increase was even greater, jumping from 193 in 2012 to 494 in 2013. In order to assist in enforcement, police are utilizing taller SUV’s and watching traffic from higher vantage points so that they can look down on drivers who they suspect of texting.

Interestingly, as texting tickets have soared, the number of tickets written for using a cellphone while driving has decreased in each of the last five years. In 2009, police issued 342,000 hand held cellphone tickets, and that number was at 207,000 in 2013, reduced from 217,000 the year before.

Since 2009, when the law first went into effect, the penalties for texting infractions were much less stringent. To begin with, texting while driving was a “secondary offense”, which meant to charge an operator with the offense, the police had to determine that he or she had committed another infraction such as speeding or following too closely. In 2011, the law was amended by the New York State legislature to change texting while driving to a primary offense, and the points imposed were increased from 2 to 3. In 2013, the fines were increased, and the points increased to five.

According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the conviction rate for texting offenses in 2012 was 66%, and the conviction rate for handheld cellphone usage was 73%. The Cohen’s Children’s Center on Long Island reported last spring that more than 3,000 teenage drivers are killed each year as a result of testing while driving. Due to the epidemic of texting while driving, particularly with younger drivers, Governor Cuomo is proposing that drivers under the age of 21 lose their licenses for one year (presently it is six months) if they are convicted of texting while driving. If that proposal is implemented by the NYS legislature, New York would have the strongest texting while driving penalties in the United States.

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The light is yellow and you are late for work. The boss is rather an unforgiving type, so you blow through the light, and the red and white lights begin flashing. “Pull over”, you hear. Now you are looking at a certain traffic ticket, right? Maybe not.

The first thing you should do is pull over, put your hazard lights on, and retrieve your driver’s license and registration. The officer approaches the car, and you roll down your window. Here is where people make their mistake. When Officer XYZ asks you “do you know why I stopped you?”, do not respond with “No, I have no idea.” I have spoken with many police officers over the years (including a family member) and this is a common theme. If you have any chance of an officer excusing the infraction, it is only a possibility if you are honest in this response. Something like this might work—“Yes officer, I am very sorry. The highway was a real mess today, I’m 15 minutes late for work, and my boss is not going to be happy.” You haven’t specifically stated that you went through the light, but, you are also not insulting the officer’s intelligence. Potentially, this will result in a warning to be safer in the future, and no ticket.

If you do get the ticket, and want to plead it down to reduce the points and or fines, and if you intend to do this yourself, request a supporting deposition. (Presently, this is often provided on a large computer print out when the ticket is issued). The supporting deposition is a document prepared by the officer which provides details of the alleged infraction—where the officer was located, what direction your car was going in, what the weather conditions were, what he/she observed, and in the case of speeding infractions, how the officer determined the speed—laser, radar or other means such as “pacing” your car.

If the officer does not prepare a supporting deposition, and you appear for the pre-trial conference, this is a basis for a dismissal of the traffic violation. Obviously, this method only works in the more old fashioned Courts where they still issue tickets which do not contain the supporting deposition. If the officer does not show up for the Court appearance, depending on the particular Court, you may move for a dismissal for “failure to prosecute.” However, in Traffic Violation Bureau Courts in the five boroughs of New York City, this will in all likelihood not be successful (unless the non-appearance by the officer is repeated) and the Court will schedule a new date. The New York City Courts are also notorious for no plea bargaining, and cases proceeding directly to trial with limited cross examination of the police officer who issued the ticket.

If you retain an attorney, in my experience, it is advisable not to request a supporting deposition, as this requires the officer to do more work and reduces the chances for obtaining the maximum possible reduction for that ticket. With regard to possible pleas for particular violations, clients should be aware that certain tickets, such as speeding in a construction zone, or in a school zone, are much more difficult to get reduced due to judges’ reluctance to countenance what they consider to be reckless behavior. Thus, a client seeking a reduction to a seat belt violation on a speeding in a construction zone infraction (usually at least 6 points, more than halfway to a suspended license at 11 points) has to accept that this may be exceedingly difficult to achieve. Driver’s abstracts can sometimes be quite helpful, in that if the driver has a pristine driving record, this can go a long way to a significant reduction.

In some jurisdictions, there are several judges, and it is sometimes possible to adjourn a case to a date when a more lenient jurist is on the bench, adding to the odds of a better resolution.

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According to a study by Edmonds.com, in which they polled three police agencies, there are several traffic violations which police departments specifically look to issue tickets for. So if you are trying to avoid being pulled over on a traffic infraction, this article is for you.

Speeding

The police are always focused on stopping drivers who are speeding due to the safety of the drivers, their passengers, and the occupants of other cars on the road. According to Edmonds, for every one hundred additional speeding tickets issued per month, there are 14.3 fewer accidents and 5.6 fewer injuries. Fines are frequently heavy on speeding infractions, particularly in school zones, in active construction areas and on infractions for more than 20 miles per hour over the speed limit. Annually, thirty four million tickets are issued for excessive speed, so it would be wise to slow down. In New York, under the Vehicle & Traffic Law, drivers who are convicted of going between 1 and 10 miles per hour over the posted speed limit receive 3 points on their license, and for drivers driving between 11 and 20 miles per hour over the speed limit, that is a four point ticket. Driving 21-30 m.p.h. over the limit is a 6 point infraction, and 31-40 over is an 8 point infraction. Keep in mind that any driver with 11 points on their license will have their license suspended by the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Distracted Driving

Distracted driving includes driving on a hand held cell phone, texting while driving, sending or receiving emails while driving, personal grooming while driving, drowsy driving and attending to young children in the back seat. Texting while driving is obviously a huge societal problem, but it appears to be most significant among younger drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that 40% of teens admit that they were in a car being operated by a driver either texting or using a smart phone. A conviction or plea of guilty to texting while driving, sending or receiving emails while driving or using a hand held cell phone will also lead to 3 points on your driver’s license.

Following Too Closely and Unsafe Lane Changes

The Edmonds study found that these two traffic infractions were of equal importance to police departments than many other traffic violations. However, under the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law, an operator convicted of following too closely receives 4 points on their license, and an unsafe lane change conviction leads to 3 points on their driver’s license. Unsafe lane changes that the police look for, according to Edmonds, include cutting another driver off, veering into another lane, and moving into another lane without looking.

Equipment Violations

Equipment violations are easy tickets for officers to issue because there is no judgment involved. Younger drivers should be aware that excessive window tint is an obvious violation that the police are looking for and will not overlook. From an officer’s perspective, too much window tint creates a safety issue in that the officer cannot see what is happening inside the vehicle. Other equipment violations which are easy marks are broken tail lights, broken windshields and expired inspection stickers.

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On July 12, 2011, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law a texting while driving ban in an effort to curb one of the main factors in the plague of distracted driving. Everyone has observed a driver next to them or in front swerving within their lane or literally driving off of the roadway as a result of the use of a handheld device, whether on the phone or texting. The Law, Section 1225-D of the New York State Vehicle & Traffic Law, prohibits the use of a “portable handheld device” while driving. Portable electronic devices include a mobile telephone, laptop computer, two way messaging device, and electronic games.

Drivers holding the device in a conspicuous manner are presumed to be “using” the device, which includes holding the device while viewing, taking or sending images, composing, sending, reading or browsing text messages, e-mails or other electronic data. The two exceptions to the ban are for emergency situations, (such as in accidents) and by police, firefighters or other emergency personnel if they are using the device in their official capacities.

The original texting while driving law created what is known as a secondary infraction, meaning that the investigating officer would have to observe the driver committing another offense such as speeding, disregarding a traffic control device or making an unsafe lane change before he could stop the driver and issue a summons.

In the year since texting ban went into effect, the numbers are dramatic: There were 20,958 tickets handed out since July 2011 for texting while driving, whereas in the year before the total ban, there were 4,569 summons issued. A 2009 study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute revealed that texting drivers were 23 times more likely to get into an accident. This is one law that it is hard to find opposition to, and unlike other regulations which get bogged down on party lines in Albany (similar to our non-functional federal government), the ban passed in an expeditious manner.

The texting while driving ban also included an increase in the points assessed by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles for the infraction from 2 to 3. The fine for a violation is $150.00 plus a mandatory New York State surcharge of $85.00. If a driver has a total of 11 points on his or her license within an 18 month period, the license will be suspended. Taking a safe driver’s class either in person or online will result in a 4 point reduction, and a 10% decrease in insurance premiums. The class can be taken once every 3 years.

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In a very interesting article in the New York Times on August 1, 2011, Joseph Goldstein and Al Baker reported on an NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau investigation launched after the ticket fixing scandal that has been in the news recently. The article notes that 40 officers are facing criminal charges, with files opened on up to 60 officers. Apparently, the focus is on cops who would fix New York traffic ticket cases by failing to show up, or give testimony claiming that they had forgotten important details in the case, leading to acquittals.

When officers testify in these cases, they are often referencing a traffic stop that occurred long ago, and using notes that might have been written from memo books or even on the back of tickets. Since officers write a large volume of tickets, it is hard to fathom that they would have any specific recollection about a traffic stop, particularly if it happened several years previously. According to the article, summonses for moving violations in the Bronx, where the scandal is focused, have declined 11% to 75,437 in 2011 from 85,132 in 2010. Citywide, there were 557,015 summonses issued in 2010 and 512,286 this year.

New York City traffic courts, in my experience, have always been difficult places to win your cases, as the officers show up ready to testify, the judges are very much on the side of the prosecution, and plea bargaining is not an option–it does not exist in these Courts. Now, investigators are “roaming the halls and breathing down officers’ necks”, according to one lawyer quoted for the article. Edward Mullins, the president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, in discussing the IAB investigation, stated: “Is IAB inadvertently creating an atmosphere of perjury, where an officer can’t remember but, because of fear of disciplinary action, creates that memory?” An important question, indeed. We will continue to follow the NYPD ticket fixing scandal as it proceeds and report on its progress.

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In a study conducted by the Gannett Newspapers and reported in the Journal News on May 2, 2011, it was found that traffic tickets issued for cell phone violations varied substantially by county. Additionally, the study showed that violations for texting while driving were a small percentage of the overall cell phone tickets handed out–less than 1% of the total tickets. Specifically, Department of Motor Vehicles (NYSDMV) records indicate that there were 332,000 cell phone infractions in 2010, compared with only 3,200 texting while driving tickets.

One reason for the small percentage of texting while driving tickets issued is that the texting prohibition just went in effect in 2010, and it is difficult to enforce with motorists attempting to shield the texting by keeping their phones out of sight of the police officer. Further, texting while driving is still a “secondary violation”, meaning that unless an officer can prove another traffic infraction, such as speeding, disregarding a traffic control device or an unsafe lane change, he is not permitted to give the ticket. New York along with only three other states has the secondary violation texting while driving ban, while 27 states make this a primary violation, in which the officer does not need any other reason to stop the vehicle.

Half of the texting while driving tickets were issued in New York City. Westchester County issued 100 texting while driving tickets in 2010, with 126 in Nassau County, while there were only 21 issued in Rockland County and 13 in Putnam County. Cell phone tickets dropped 15 % over the last 4 years. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2009 there were 5,474 fatalities attributed to distracted driving, which comprised 16 % of all fatal accidents. This was an increase of 6% in distracted driving fatalities since 2005.

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Although many are not aware of it, on January 1, 2011 the Move Over Act was implemented in New York State. The Act requires that drivers observing emergency vehicles with their lights flashing on the side of a highway must reduce their speed and drive with “due care.” If the driver is on a highway or parkway with multiple lanes, the driver is required to pull his or her vehicle one lane to the left to avoid the possibility of endangering the safety of the emergency responders.

The Act came in to being in response to several cases over the last few years in which emergency personnel and police officers were either killed or severely injured due to motorists driving too closely or too fast in proximity to the workers or officers. The official name of the regulation is the Ambrose-Searles Move Over Act, named after New York State Trooper Robert W. Ambrose and Onodaga County Sheriff Glenn M. Searles, who both were killed in the line of duty while their cars were attending to emergencies on the roadway.

According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, since 1999, more than 160 law enforcement officials have been killed as a result of being struck while assisting in roadway incidents. A violation of the Move Over Act will result in a fine of $275.00 and a two point assessment on the motorists’ license.

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Beginning in November of 2004, New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (NYSDMV) instituted a fine for motorists who are convicted or plead guilty to New York DWI charges or traffic infractions which result in 6 or more points within an 18 month period. This fine is known as the “Driver’s Responsibility Assessment”, and it certainly adds to the financial bite of DWI or significant New York traffic infractions.

If you are convicted or plead guilty to either a New York drunk driving charge, such as an Aggravated DWI, DWI, DWAI, or DWAID (Driving While Ability Impaired by Drugs), the assessment is $750.00, which can be paid all at once or in three annual installments of $250.00. If you are convicted or plead guilty to traffic infractions totaling 6 or more points with 18 months, the assessment is $300.00, which can be paid up front or for three years at $100.00 per year. For each additional point above the 6 points during the 18 month period, the DMV adds on $75.00, or $25 per year.

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In a study conducted by the Journal News and published this week, Westchester, Putnam and Rockland Counties have been targeting extreme speeders on I-684, I-87, the Palisades Interstate Parkway, and the Taconic Parkway, among others. The highest speed on record was by a driver of an Acura on I-684 in Southeast who was clocked at 142 miles per hour, and who ended up paying fines of $455.00 for a Putnam speeding ticket of going 95 in a 65 m.p.h zone. Seven drivers have been charged with driving an eye opening 130 m.p.h or faster in 2006 and 2007 in the Lower Hudson Valley, with I-684 leading the way with the most speeders. This is not surprising, as I-684, which stretches from Harrison to Brewster, is a wide and straight road, and speeds have been increasing after the speed limit was raised to 65 mph several years ago.

Notable speeders include rapper DMX, who was clocked at 104 mph on I-684, only to be exceeded by his wife, who was stopped doing 106 mph two years later. Records show that 11,210 drivers were convicted of New York speeding tickets on 684 in 2006 and 2007, more than any other highway in the Westchester, Putnam or Rockland counties. There were 104,259 drivers convicted of speeding during this two year period in the Lower Hudson Valley, with the average speeder going approximately 20 mph over the limit, but 452 drivers exceeding 100 mph.

A speeding conviction of 1-10 mph over the limit will get you 3 points on your license; 11-20 over nets you 4 points; 21-30 over will get you 6 points; 31-40 over results in 8 points, and 40 over or above means your driver’s license is automatically suspended with 11 points being assessed by the DMV.

Of note, the top five roads and jurisdictions for 2006-2007 speeding convictions in the region were I-684 in Bedford with 4,976; the Palisades Parkway in Clarkstown with 2,631; I-87 in Greenburgh with 2,285; I-84 in Kent, with 2,267; and I-684 in North Castle with 2,231. The study found that the State police has the most speeding convictions in the region between 2006 and 2007. The top five departments in obtaining convictions were: The State police in Somers with 8,847; the State police in Haverstraw with 7,406; the White Plains Police Department with 6,642; the State Police in New Rochelle with 5,978; and the Westchester County Police with 5,163.

As a warning to our readers, although it is frequently possible for our New York traffic ticket lawyers to get speeding tickets reduced, and in many instances, get a reduction to a violation with the possibility of no points, be careful in Orange County, especially in places such as Walkill, where Town Justice Raymond Shoemaker, who was a state trooper earlier in his career, has sentenced drivers to up to 15 days in jail for driving 90 mph, 25 mph over the limit. The judge noted that there were several serious car accidents in his jurisdiction over the last 4 or 5 years, and stated: “It appears that it’s mostly young, inexperienced drivers who are involved. How best do you think these kids are going to learn? Just to get a reduced speed, a fine, and a surcharge and away they go? If you’re going to go that kind of speed, maybe they need a little reminder how serious what they have done is.” This ought to send a chill down the spine of speeders in Judge Shoemaker’s neck of the woods!

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According to an online article on MSN.com from January 1, 2009, state and local governments are making a concerted effort to raise money by stricter enforcement of the traffic laws. The article refers to an additional motivation for the more vigorous enforcement: namely, car insurance companies pushing for this in order to increase premiums when drivers are convicted of traffic offenses.

200 additional traffic enforcement agents are being hired in New York City to step up enforcement of many traffic violations, and particularly, tickets for blocking intersections will increase substantially. This past year, I have observed that many of our New York traffic ticket clients are getting multiple tickets in one traffic stop, on many occasions approaching 11 points, which results in a suspension of their driver’s license.

The article also contained a MSN video advising that you should fight your traffic tickets in Court rather than paying them.

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