Obstructing an Intersection Law in NY
Driving in NY has many challenges and we have all had to suffer traffic and congestion. Vehicle and Traffic Law 1175 is designed to lessen the chaos. The statute states “When vehicular traffic is stopped on the opposite side of an intersection, no person shall drive a vehicle into such intersection, except when making a turn unless there is adequate space on the opposite side of the intersection to accommodate the vehicle…notwithstanding the indication of a traffic control signal which would permit him to proceed.” This is commonly referred to as spillback or blocking the box and contributes overwhelmingly to traffic congestion by blocking the intersection and preventing traffic flow. While this can be a problem anywhere there’s traffic congestion, spillback is overwhelmingly a traffic ticket seen in NYC more than anywhere else.
When a driver enters an intersection, they must be able to completely clear the intersection during their light cycle. This means that although you may have a green light allowing you to proceed, unless you plan to make a turn onto an intersecting street, you may not proceed unless you can make it completely across the intersection. There must be sufficient space to accommodate your entire vehicle. You may not block either the crosswalk on the far side of the intersection or any lanes of the intersection itself. Doing so prevents traffic flow on the intersecting street from proceeding once their light cycles to green and clogs the intersection.
In other words, the spillback law in NY is basically saying this to drivers–if you are going straight through an intersection, do not enter it unless you are certain there is room for you to make it all the way to the other side. If it’s close or tight enough that one parked car pulling out or lane changing vehicle will make a difference then err on the side of waiting for the next light cycle to proceed.
An intersection is typically determined by the crosswalks on either side or the curb line where there are no crosswalks at the location. The box refers to the middle portion surrounded by the 4 crosswalks on each side of the intersection where each direction of travel has a marked crosswalk. In order for traffic to flow in all directions, the “box” must be clear of congestion with no vehicles blocking any lane of travel. Entering the intersection without sufficient space only results in contributing to the congestion and making traffic conditions worse. When traffic cannot move in any of the directions it’s commonly referred to as gridlock. It’s literally a locked grid of criss crossing streets with no one able to go anywhere even when facing a green signal light.
What if a police officer or parked cars were the cause of the problem?
There’s no doubt that unnecessary activity on the far side of an intersection can make it harder for vehicles to clear the intersection. Many people complain that the officer(s) doing spillback enforcement are the ones also creating the situation by suddenly stopping multiple vehicles or parking their own vehicle in a questionable way. Others say it’s double or triple parked commercial vehicles pulling in or out that utilize space which otherwise seemed available for traffic to proceed. While people making such observations may be correct, the bottom line is that you still need to proceed with care because the driver who gets stuck in the middle of an intersection, regardless of why or how, is the one most likely to receive a summons.
Is blocking the box (spillback) a moving violation with points or a parking violation?
Traditionally, this was a moving violation like speeding, talking on the cell phone or any other traditional moving violation. In NYC, this changed a bit in 2008. At that time, the city was authorized to issue a parking ticket or a moving violation. This allowed more enforcement officers to monitor intersections and help keep traffic moving and provided these officers with an option of simply scanning the vehicle’s registration and issuing a parking ticket version of the violation. A scan of the registration was much quicker and more efficient than pulling over the vehicle in an already congested area. Our firm doesn’t handle parking violations (no points, no insurance issues) so it’s hard to say how often these are issued but we can say that there are still plenty of moving violations issued for spillback. When pulled over and issued a moving violation traffic ticket, a driver is facing a fine and two points on the driver license.
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