Cops Can Get It Wrong – More Incorrect Traffic Advice from The Internet

Written by Gregory Monte.

If you happen to get a traffic ticket, don’t just assume that you are guilty.  There is a possibility that the officer who wrote that ticket actually doesn’t totally understand the law which he is using to charge you.  You are only guilty if you actually break a law – not because a cop thinks you broke it.

Example #1

This was the case with my son – he was charged with failing to stop at a stop sign.  The cop thought he was guilty because she saw him roll through it, but as it turns out, the law indicated otherwise.  How is this possible?  The sign was not properly posted as required, so he could not be found guilty of failing to stop.  As crazy as it sounds, although the sign did exist in reality, it did not exist as far as the law was concerned. If you are interested, you can read a free one-page PDF summary of my son’s strategy as well as his opening statement in court.

Example #2

Similarly, if your car has tinted windows, many cops will cite you for this alleged violation of the law.  I wrote a blog post back in early April about my son’s friend who actually received six tickets for having tinted windows on his car (one for each separate window).  The cop saw the dark windows, tested them with his special device, and came to the conclusion that the percentage of tinting was beyond the legal limit.  The problem was that the actual law didn’t agree with the cop’s interpretation of it.  As a result, all six of these citations were dismissed by a judge.  You can read the details at: Traffic Ticket for Tinted Car Windows?

Useless Traffic Ticket Advice Websites

I was personally involved in winning both of these cases because I took the time to actually read the law rather than trust that a cop knew what he or she was doing.  Also, if I had simply relied on the internet for advice, I would never have attempted to fight because what I found on there was pretty much worthless.

This experience inspired me to write two blog posts which specifically highlighted the uselessness of most traffic ticket advice websites:

My primary complaint was that these sites didn’t offer a solid strategy to contest a traffic ticket in court.  Instead, they only offered vague recommendations.  Most turned out to be fronts for law firms that wanted me to hire them.  As you would expect, attorneys have a vested interest in only going so far when it comes to helpful advice – especially when they can’t bill you for the hours …

Misleading Traffic Ticket Advice Websites

These sites are bad enough, but there are others that contain commentary and information that is just flat-out wrong.  I took the time to criticize two such sites in a post back in June called Can You Cross a Double Yellow Line to Pass a Slow-Moving Vehicle?  They claimed, unequivocally, that it was illegal to cross a double yellow line to pass a vehicle on the left:

  • Driver’s Road Markings – “YOU CANNOT cross a double yellow line to pass another vehicle.”
  • Driver’s Education What are the rules of passing another vehicle? – “Passing is illegal when: The center line is a double solid yellow line or there is a solid yellow line on your side.”

I proved that this was not the case in Pennsylvania by actually citing relevant parts of the Motor Vehicle Code.  Unlike many other websites out there dealing with traffic tickets, I don’t just give my opinion.  I locate the original sources, interpret the meaning of the words written and then (most importantly) back up my conclusions by referencing court decisions.

Some Traffic Law Misinformation from New York

Which brings me to today’s criticism of an article that was posted on the News 10 WHEC website – Good Question: Can you drive on the shoulder of the road?  Instead of doing original research, the writer simply asked a police officer about the legality of driving on the shoulder of a road to pass a car turning left.  Unfortunately, this police officer provided incorrect information.

Here is what the article claimed:

  • “… according to the law, you can use the shoulder to pass a car when you’re not approaching an intersection …[but] … you are not allowed to pass vehicles to get to an intersection.”
  • “If you do use the shoulder, under the law, it can only be used to bypass one vehicle.”

New York Law Is Crystal Clear On This Issue

The problem with these claims is that the New York motor vehicle code does not support them.  As I detailed in my previous blog post – Using the Shoulder to Pass a Car Turning Left. Is it Legal? – New York does not allow the use of the shoulder for any reason at all:

New York, Section 1123 – “The driver of a vehicle may overtake and pass upon the right of another vehicle only under the following conditions:   1. When the vehicle overtaken is making or about to make a left turn … Such movement shall not be made by driving off the pavement or main-traveled portion of the roadway, except as permitted by section eleven hundred thirty-one of this article.

The “main-traveled portion of the roadway” does not include the shoulder – see the definition of Roadway in Section 140:

“That portion of a highway improved, designed, marked, or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the shoulder and slope.“

Furthermore, Section 1131 contains a specific prohibition on use of the shoulder on state controlled-access highways unless specifically authorized:

“… no motor vehicle shall be driven over, across, along, or within any shoulder or slope of any state controlled-access highway except at a location specifically authorized and posted by the department of transportation …”

The only other section which might apply is 1160, but this only refers to making a right turn at an intersection – not using the shoulder to pass.  Also, even this action is only allowed if specifically authorized.

“The driver of a vehicle intending to turn at an intersection shall do so as follows … 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.”

What the Courts Say

But don’t take my word for it.  In the following case, an individual was found guilt for leaving the roadway to pass another vehicle turning left:

People v. Shea, 144 Misc. 2d 981 – NY: Appellate Term, 2nd Dept. 1989

Judgment of conviction affirmed … A “roadway’ in turn is defined in relevant part as ‘That portion of a highway … exclusive of the shoulder and slope’ … The gravamen of the instant charge, therefore, is that defendant left the roadway to overtake and pass a vehicle.”

An earlier case, People v. Rogan, 111 Misc. 2d 493 – NY: Village Justice Court 1981, came to the same conclusion.  Here an individual tried to pass on the right a NY Constable who was making a left turn.  Notice that there was no discussion about a distinction between an intersection or a straight road.  The law simply prohibits a motorist from using the shoulder to pass:

“As he was waiting for northbound traffic to pass through the intersection before making a left turn from Route 9 onto Route 9G, defendant’s vehicle passed on his right … Subdivision (b) of section 1123 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law limits the movement of a motor vehicle passing on the right to ‘the pavement’ or ‘main-traveled portion of the roadway’ … Under the facts of the case, this court concludes that the phrase main-traveled portion of the roadway should apply as a result of the edge line on the right … the court is of the opinion that the People have proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt …”

So, if you get a ticket, don’t just assume that that the cop who wrote it is correct.  There are always technicalities – subtle points in the law – that the police have no clue about.  This means that there are plenty of ways to win in court.  All you have to do is use the law to beat the law.  If you want to read some details about how my son did just this, check out my two free PDFs linked below.


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