Following up on my last blog about sweating the small stuff, here are some more pitfalls which, if not avoided, can provoke an encounter with the minions of the law (as opposed to the little yellow ones).

Winter in upstate New York brings with it some temptations.  No, I’m not referring to moving south.  I’m talking about shortcuts and other measures often used to accommodate or combat the cold.

In Case 1, I walked into a sandwich shop on a cold night and approached the Deputy Sheriff who was standing in line.  “Deputy, there is a VTL violation (Vehicle & Traffic Law) going on in the parking lot.”  His interest piqued, he looked past me into the lot and asked me what it was.  “1210-a”, I replied.  He immediately took my meaning and defensively explained he had to do it or he couldn’t be sure his patrol car would start in the event of an emergency.  No….he wanted a warm car to eat in.  He could see by my smile I was just having fun with him and didn’t take too much offense.

The Deputy had left his patrol unit running.   The keys were in the ignition, no other deputy was in the car, and no Rin Tin Tin on guard in the back seat.  Leaving a vehicle running is called “Unattended Motor Vehicle”.  It violates § 1210-a of the VTL.  There is no exception in the law for cops waiting in line for sandwiches, nor does the statute exempt cars in private driveways.  This law requires the engine to be shut off and the keys taken out of the ignition.  The keys can be left in the car, but not in plain sight.  And nothing in the law says a dog in the car means you can leave it running.  The Deputy did not ticket himself.

The penalty for § 1210-a is up to $150 plus a surcharge of either $88 (City Court) or $93 (Town & Village Courts).  There are no points for this violation.  The court could impose a 15 day jail sentence, but in nearly 30 years of practice, I have never seen a judge even remotely consider such a penalty for this sort of minor offense, even though it is on the books.

The intent of this law is to remove temptation for auto theft.  Someone of less than noble character walking down the street might find an empty, running car to be too much temptation, especially on a cold night when they have had a bit too much to drink.  Imagine if a teenager lacking in good judgment (a redundancy) decided to go for a joy ride in your car which had been left running and unlocked..  They hit someone a mile down the road.  The ticket you would receive for §1210-a would be the least of your problems.  The civil lawsuit from the injured person (or the decedent’s family) would be much worse.  You would be liable for leaving the keys in the car.

The next cold winter’s morning you are tempted to warm your car up before getting in, don’t.  It isn’t great for the engine (modern cars only need a minute or so to warm up) and could expose you to a ticket and civil liability.

Case 2 happened on a snowy December day.  My client was pulled over and ticketed for violating § 402-1b of the VTL, commonly known as an obscured license plate violation.  The obscuring substance?  Snow.  Yup.  Snow on a license plate in December after a snow storm.  Oh, the horror.  The perfidy. The utter lawlessness of the driver.  Hide your children and upgrade your home security system. But you get the point.  Why give an officer a reason, however slight, to pull you over and write a ticket?  Dust off your plates before driving.

Snow and dirt are not your only worries.  This statute prohibits any plastic or glass covering from being placed over the license plate, even if it is clear.

The penalty for § 402-1b is a fine ranging from $25 to $200 with a surcharge of either $88 (City Courts) or $93 (Town & Village Courts).

Case 3 happened when at the beginning of my career.  I was working for the City Prosecutor in Concord, NH.  On a frigid morning, a driver decided he only needed to be outside long enough to scrape a grapefruit sized hole in the ice and snow on his front windshield.  It wasn’t even that big a grapefruit.  He was ticketed for driving with an obstructed view and found guilty after trial.   The reasoning for the law is straightforward: It is a matter of public safety, and the Judge told him so.

New York has analogous laws.  VTL § 375 has a number of subdivisions requiring the driver’s view to unobstructed, including 1(b) which requires every vehicle to have suitable wipers which can clear a sufficient area of the windshield to provide “reasonable driving vision”.   The penalty for violating this section is up to $150, either a $58 or $63 surcharge and up to 30 days in jail (!).   Scrape your windshield clear…front and back.  Clean the side windows, too.  It will help keep you safe and take away a reason for the police to stop you.

If you get stopped for either an obstructed plate or windshield, use your phone to take a photo.  But don’t do it until the car is stopped at the side of the road.  You don’t want to provoke a ticket for using a hand-held electronic device.  Depending on what the photo shows, the prosecutor might be inclined to reduce or dismiss the ticket.  Most of these sorts of tickets are handled by my office thru the mail.  Most likely, you won’t have to go to court.  Better still, do as I suggest and you won’t need me.


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