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New York Driving and Traffic Laws

Learning driving laws for a new state can seem overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. In fact, many driving and traffic laws remain the same from state to state, for the maximum amount of consistency and to make it easy for drivers to transition.

If you're planning to drive in the state of New York, it's important that you know at least the basic driving and traffic laws in the state. That way, you can stay safe and avoid tickets and accidents.

Alcohol and Drug Related New York Laws

New York takes driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs very seriously. They are considered a zero tolerance state for drivers under 21, which means that these drivers violate the Zero Tolerance Law if they are found with a blood alcohol count (BAC) between .02 and .07.

For drivers over 21, there are several different levels of alcohol and drug related driving convictions in New York. Any driver with a BAC between .05 and .07, or who shows any other evidence of having their driving skills impaired because of alcohol, is guilty of a DWAI/Alcohol. Note that this law gives officers the right to arrest you and charge you with this violation if they have reason to believe that alcohol is keeping you from driving your best, even if your BAC is below the minimum.

If your BAC is .08 or higher, or you show extreme evidence of intoxication, you will be charged with a DWI. This is a separate and different offense from the DWAI/Alcohol just discussed, and those charged with this will face stiffer penalties. If your BAC is .18 or higher, you will be charged with an Aggravated DWI, which is an even greater offense than a DWI and has even greater penalties associated with it.

Finally, if you are found to be under the influence of drugs but not alcohol, you will be charged with a DWAI/Drug. If you are found to have both drugs and alcohol in your system, you will be charged with a DWAI/Combined. Again, these offenses are separate from one another and from the other offenses discussed, and have their own penalties assessed.

The penalties associated with each alcohol and drug related offense are different depending on how many of these types of charges you have had and the period of time in which you've had them. The more you have, the higher your penalties. Penalties include fines, license suspension, and a possible jail term.

In NY, it's important that you submit to any alcohol or drug testing that an officer wants to do on you, be it a test of your blood, urine, or breath. If you refuse the test, you will automatically lose your driver license for at least one year and pay a fine of $500. To avoid these penalties, submit to any test an officer requests of you.

Other Laws

New York has a strict cell phone law. It is illegal to use any hand-held cell phone while driving in the state, unless you are contacting the police or fire department in case of an emergency. You are permitted to use a hands-free device, as long as you do not have to hold the device to your ear during use. The maximum fine for this offense is a $100 fine, with mandatory fees and surcharges of $80 on top of that. You will get a ticket if pulled over for using your phone, but it will not count against your record.

NY has a special points system for tracking speeding tickets and other moving violations. Each violation carries between 3 and 11 points. If you get more than 11 points on your license in any 18 month period, your license will be revoked, usually for 31 days. However, you will also lose your license for a period of time if you get any 3 speeding violations in 18 months, even if your point total is not 11. The state is especially concerned about speeding, because accidents caused by driving too fast account for up to 30% of fatalities among New York drivers. Thus, the points system is an effort to reduce deaths by motivating people to drive more safely.

If you receive any traffic ticket in New York, you must respond or you risk a suspension of your driving privileges. In some cases, you can handle your ticket online through New York's Department of Motor Vehicles Traffic Violations Bureau. Here, you can enter your plea and pay any fines assessed to you. If you want to appear before a judge to challenge the ticket, you must schedule a court date. This is where you will defend yourself and hear whether or not your defense is accepted. Note that you cannot deal with all tickets online. If you are facing alcohol or drug related driving charges, or more serious charges like reckless driving, you will be required to go to court in person.

In New York, buckling people into seat belts is very important. The state requires that all passengers in the front seat of a moving vehicle wear seat belts. In addition, all back seat passengers under the age of 16 must be belted in, too. All children under the age of four must ride in safety seats, and children who are four, five, or six must sit in some sort of child restraint system. These safety seats and systems must be approved by the federal government. NY police officers can pull you over for a seat belt violation alone. They do not have to have any other reason to stop your car. The minimum fine for one of these violations is $50. However, if anyone under 16 is not belted in, you will receive a fine of $100 and 3 points against your license.

Note that New York takes disabled parking seriously. If a spot is labeled as disabled parking, any other person who parks there or any disabled person who parks there without the proper permission will receive a fine between $50 and $150. To get a disabled parking permit, your medical practitioner must fill out a state-approved form and write a letter using their letterhead. You must then take these documents to the county clerk's office to receive your permit, though there is no fee associated with it.

Finally, if you move within the state of New York, you most notify the Department of Motor
Vehicles of your move with 10 days. You can do this via mail or by going into a DMV office. If you do not update your address, the state has grounds to consider your license and any vehicle registration with your old address on it as invalid, so be sure to keep them up-to-date on your whereabouts.

While this list does not cover all of the driving and traffic laws in New York, the ones highlighted here are some of the most important and commonly violated ones. If you want more information on how to drive safely in the state, contact their Department of Motor Vehicles office or check out their website at


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