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Many people are confused when they are pulled over, after making a turn that seemed to be completely legal, and issued a ticket for an improper turn under VTL § 1160.

Most people’s confusion comes from the fact that they assumed they were making a turn they were permitted to make.  They didn’t see any “no turns” sign or any other restriction on turning indication that the turn itself was illegal.  Unfortunately, an “improper turn”  violation isn’t about the legality of the turn itself.  Instead, it’s about the specific manner in which the turn was executed.

The most important point to remember with this section of law is that left and right turns need to be made from as far to the left and right of the roadway as “practicable”.  There is also specific language regarding turns at two way roadways and u-turns.  Many don’t realize that that the “wide” turn from a second or third lane, when vehicles are waiting in the first lane, is what the law intends to prevent.  Drivers may be permitted to turn at the intersection or location in question but they must do so from the proper position on the roadway.

Penalties for an Improper Turn in New York

  • Fines and Mandatory Surcharges: Fines and surcharges are generally on par with other similar traffic violations (starting at $135 or so) but like with most violations vary based on your driving record and the particular court handling the case. 
  • Points: This is a two point violation.  As points accumulate, expect to pay assessments and eventually be suspended. 
  • Auto insurance premiums: As with all moving violations, convictions can certainly contribute to an increase in auto insurance premiums based on your overall personal situation and driving history.  

The Law – Improper Turn Ticket § VTL 1160.

The statute setting forth what constitutes an improper turn is pretty straight forward.  Here’s the entire relevant section of the NYS VTL.

1160. Required position and method of turning at intersections. The driver of a vehicle intending to turn at an intersection shall do so as follows:

a) Right turns. 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.

(b) Left turns on two-way roadways. 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.

(c) Left turns on other than two-way roadways. 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.

(d) 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.

(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.

I changed lanes before turning right but the officer still considered this an improper turn. Should I have been issued a ticket?

Not everything is black or white.  Some vehicular traffic maneuvers are a bit subjective.  Terms such as “too close” or “unsafe” or “unreasonable”…these can often be defined by the individual enforcement officer’s sensibilities.  The same can be said of a section of law requiring that “both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable” to the right side of the roadway.  Whether the lane change to the right lane prior to turning was made soon enough to satisfy this “approach” part of the law will be up to the officer.

No one was in the proper lane when I turned. There was no danger or other car in the area. Should I still get a ticket?

Yes. A vehicle needs to be in the proper position on the roadway.  No part of this law mentions other vehicles on the roadway or whether the maneuver was at all dangerous.

What if there was an obstruction in the proper lane?

The law requires vehicles to be “as close as practicable” to the proper position.  If there are parked cars or a bus or a taxi making a pick up in a right or left lane then a right or left turn could be made from the next lane over.  However, keep in mind that you should do all you can to get back into the proper lane if there’s any room to do so and also keep in mind that if an officer writes a ticket you can fully expect that officer to deny that there was any such obstruction in the proper lane.

What if there were signs or pavement markings or cones permitting turns from a second or third lane?

A driver will be permitted to turn from any one of these lanes if there is some traffic device specifically allowing it.  The traffic device allowing the turn at that specific location would override the general law regarding positioning on the roadway.

How can I avoid an Improper Turn ticket?

Don’t tempt an officer to write one.  If there’s traffic in a lane waiting to turn left or right (there often is if drivers are waiting for pedestrians to pass) then wait your turn.  Approaching the turn to the right or left of this traffic and either making the wide turn or cutting into the line at the last minute is the type of maneuver an officer is looking for.  Same with cutting across a number of lanes to make a turn even when the road is otherwise empty.

Fight Your Improper Turn Ticket

Feifer & Greenberg, LLP can help if you’ve been issued a ticket for an improper turn.  We’re happy to provide a free consultation and case review.  Give us a call at (888) 842-5384 or contact us online.