New York City drivers are renowned for being well-versed behind the wheel (to put it lightly). Frequent stops, navigating tight corridors with two walls of parked cars on either side, fearless pedestrians crossing the street on a red traffic signal—as an NYC driver, you’ll face it all. Unfortunately, not being from the city nor having out-of-state plates will convince a police officer to let you off the hook when you break the rules of the road.
So if you can’t take public transportation and have to get behind the wheel in the Big Apple, it’s worth it to familiarize yourself with driver regulations to avoid a potential settlement with your NYC car accident lawyer.
Whether you’re a veteran NYC driver, have recently moved, or are planning to just pass through, keep in mind the following rules of the road NYC abides by, as well as general safety tips to avoid any surprises.
#1 Right on Red
Unlike the rest of New York state, you are not permitted to turn right at a red light in New York City automatically. Unless there is a sign at the intersection that says that you can, always come to a complete stop until the light has turned green. This is due to the high volume of traffic in the city and the added danger that comes with it.
What to do with all this extra time? We recommend turning on any NYC radio channel to listen to staticky traffic updates, rolling down the window to smell sizzling pretzels and peanuts, or searching for the closest bagel shop.
Isn’t that a classic New York saying: “Stop and smell the bagels”?
#2 Don’t Block the Box
Intersections can quickly become boxing rings in New York City. Avoid getting caught in the middle of one by stopping before the crosswalk if a light is about to change. There are signs that remind you of this, but even when the sign isn’t there, the rule still applies.
If you get stuck on a crosswalk with no room to back up, stay where you are and let the sea of people flow around your motor vehicle. You may get a few too-close-for-comfort nasty looks from passersby, so we recommend avoiding eye contact and imagining you are elsewhere.
Nobody wants to get stuck fishing around in their cup holder for change to pay the foot-tapping toll attendant. That's where E-ZPass comes in. E-ZPass lets you charge your account with money and gives you a small device that attaches to your windshield, letting you pass. If you don’t have E-Zpass or a toll is cashless, the station will automatically photograph your license plate and mail you the bill.
Be sure to pay this fine as soon as you receive it to avoid paying interest or incurring additional fees.
Intersections and parking lots are high-risk areas for accidents, whether that be with other cars or pedestrians. Put them in a city as packed as New York, and you’re going to want to know who has the right-of-way to ensure everyone’s safety.
Pay attention to the following at an intersection:
- Traffic signs
- Traffic signals
- Pavement markings
But, there are still some circumstances in which you can’t only go by signs and markings. Review the following scenarios for when you have to yield. Some of them aren’t unique to New York City, but due to heightened driving risk, they’re important to review. It would also be helpful to familiarize yourself with the no-fault accident laws in NY, just in case.
Turning Left at a Green Light
Imagine that you pull up to a crowded intersection in Manhattan, and you see that the light is green. You want to take a left, but unless you have a green arrow, you must check for oncoming traffic first, as they have the right-of-way to continue straight or go right before you. If multiple lanes are turning, stay in your corresponding lane as you turn.
Turning at an Intersection with Stop Signs
Sometimes, you’ll come upon an intersection where traffic is slower and see a stop sign instead of a traffic light. Typically, whoever has first pulled up to the intersection will make their turn first. If two or more vehicles arrive at the intersection simultaneously, the driver on the left is to yield to the driver on the right. The driver on the right has the right-of-way.
Exiting a Private Driveway or Parking Lot
Whether you’re emerging from a parking deck after a Broadway show or negotiating your way out of a shopping center lot, you must remember that you do not have the right-of-way. This goes to vehicles already on the roadway as well as pedestrians on crosswalks. Breathe in, breathe out—patience is key when trying to get back on the road in the city.
Other Circumstances of Right-of-Way
You may run into even more circumstances where you question who has the right-of-way. Here is a quick list of other vehicles or persons that have the right-of-way:
- Pedestrians who stepped on the crosswalk (even before the light turned green)
- New York drivers already in a traffic circle or roundabout
- Bikers in a bike lane
- Any emergency vehicle such as fire trucks, ambulances, and policemen
Note: The Move Over Law requires New York drivers to give space to authorized emergency and hazard vehicles that are stopped on highways in New York.
U-Turns are touch and go in New York City. If you’re accustomed to pulling them daily, you’re going to want to think twice when in the concrete jungle. You cannot make a U-turn:
- At the top of a hill or curve where vehicles coming in the opposite direction wouldn’t be able to see you from 500 feet
- In the business districts of New York City
- Highways or expressways
- School zones
- Where “NO U-TURN” signs are visible
Your best bet for finding parking is in a Parking Garage, but if you’re looking to save some money and want to try your luck at parking in the street, there are some rules to avoid fines or towing:
- Stay 15 feet away from fire hydrants when parking
- Park with your tires outside of crosswalk markings
- Make sure to charge the parking meter if there is one and keep an eye out for time limits
- Watch out for signs that prohibit parking on one side of the street or during certain times and days
When it comes to street parking regulations, also note that signs typically only dictate one side of the street. The reason being is that street sweepers will typically clean one side of the street on a certain day of the week and the other side of the street on another.
#7 Prohibited Actions
There are a few practices that are prohibited in New York City when getting behind the wheel. Even though some are similar to other states and cities, the numbers can shift when it comes to accepted BAC, honking, and smoking.
- BAC Limit – In New York City, the blood alcohol content limit is currently .08 BAC, although lawmakers are debating lowering it to .05. This means that next time you’re out for drinks on Friday night, always have a designated licensed driver when you’re planning on having more than a few drinks.
- Unnecessary Honking – It might seem silly, given that honking seems to be a right-of-passage for any New York driver, but honking unnecessarily is fineable—$350 to be exact.
- Smoking in Cars – Smoking or vaping is prohibited when a minor under 14 is present. This is enforced with a maximum fine of $100.
How to Practice Road Safety
In New York City, being an aggressive driver, although common, isn’t admired by traffic control. Be sure to practice two road safety practices when driving down Madison Avenue—sharing the road and defensive driving.
Share the Road
In New York State, being struck by a vehicle as a pedestrian is all too common. In fact, it’s one of the top ten leading causes of hospitalization. An estimated 15,000 pedestrians are struck on New York roadways every year—and that doesn’t even include bicyclists and motorcyclists, who are less visible than cars and often come speeding around corners, seemingly out of nowhere.
Follow these safety practices to make sure you keep your walking or two-wheeled neighbors safe:
- Check for a cyclist or motorcyclist before you make a turn or switch lanes
- Whenever crossing a crosswalk, be prepared to yield and never pass a stopped motor vehicle
- Exercise caution when reversing into or out of a driveway or backing out of that parking spot after a supermarket run
- Avoid using your phone while driving—listening or watching distracting content pulls your attention and makes you a liability on the road
Other drivers aren’t perfect, and the chaotic assembly of pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vehicles all trying to squeeze a few seconds out of their commute can make the roads an offensive place. Thus, it’ll serve you well to practice defensive driving.
New York DMV recommends the following practices to become an official defensive driver:
- Be prepared – Always be alert for drivers, pedestrians, or bicyclists that may not be following the rules of the road.
- Stay within the speed limit – Driving at the correct speed—25 mph unless marked in the city—will prevent speeding tickets and protect yourself and others.
- Use your signal – When turning or changing lanes, signal to alert other drivers of your next move. Although sometimes it feels like they should, New Yorkers are unable to read minds.
- Leave space – Four of every ten crashes involve rear-end collisions from tailgating. Even if you want to read that car’s fine print bumper sticker, allow space between your cars if they need to back up or you need to quickly break.
- Limit distractions – Whether it’s staring at the latest Times Square ad or checking a text from your boss, there are many options for distraction when behind the wheel. Avoid anything that interferes with your ability to focus on the road.
When the Rules of the Road Aren’t Enough, Call an Attorney
If you’re involved in an accident and are considering your next steps, head over to Mighty's Car Accident Attorney Directory to find a trusted attorney in your area today.
New York DMV. Intersections and Turns. https://dmv.ny.gov/about-dmv/chapter-5-intersections-and-turns#MOL
New York Post. Proposed NY law would lower state blood alcohol limit to .05. https://nypost.com/2021/05/19/proposed-ny-law-would-lower-state-blood-alcohol-limit-to-05/
New York State Department of Health. A Guide to the New York State Clean Indoor Air Act. https://www.health.ny.gov/publications/3402/
NHTSA. Share the Road: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility. https://www.nhtsa.gov/share-road-its-everyones-responsibility
New York DMV. Driving Test Handbook Manual. https://driving-tests.org/new-york/ny-dmv-drivers-handbook-manual/
Written ByMaly Ohrenschall
VP of Customer Experience
About the author
Maly is a seasoned professional with over 15 years of experience in the insurance sector, specializing in multi-line claims and customer service for personal injury cases. As the leader of Mighty’s Client Experience team, she leverages her extensive background to ensure clients involved in auto accidents receive the highest level of care and support. Maly’s expertise plays a crucial role in delivering exceptional service and fostering long-lasting client relationships.
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