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Don’t Block the Box: Avoid a Citation for Blocking an Intersection

Few things are more frustrating — when it comes to driving — than seeing that green light ahead while you are stuck in traffic, unmoving.

The culprit is “blocking the box,” and it typically occurs when a driver pulls into an intersection despite it being unlikely that he or she will be able to proceed through before the light turns red.

What many readers in Schnectady County and elsewhere in the state of New York might not know is that this practice is a violation of New York traffic laws.

What the Law Says

Paragraph 1175 of the New York’s traffic law covers obstructing traffic at an intersection. It notes that when traffic going your direction is at a standstill on the far side of the intersection, you are not allowed to drive your car into the intersection.

An exception to the rule is when you’re making a turn. You are allowed to pull your vehicle into the intersection and wait for a break in traffic (or for traffic to stop because it has a red light), and then complete the turn. However, only one vehicle at a time is allowed to do this.

New York City’s Twist on the Law

You can be cited for blocking an intersection anywhere in New York, but when you’re traveling in New York City, the law is slightly different. NYC decided a few years ago to classify blocking the box as a parking violation (because your vehicle is stopped, after all).

This was done so that the city’s traffic agents, who are not sworn police officers, could also cite drivers for violating the law. New York City also made the fine $115, a little over the state minimum of $90.

What You Can Do

Virtually everyone has made the mistake of entering an intersection and being stuck there until the light changes. The best way to avoid a “blocking the box” violation is to be constantly aware of traffic conditions while driving. (This means, among other things, that your mobile phone or tablet should be stashed away.)

Drivers who are paying attention are more likely to notice that traffic is stopped ahead or that there are signs indicating you’re approaching a construction zone, for example. Also, don’t feel any pressure to enter the intersection just because there are other cars behind you – those drivers can wait, and they won’t be lining up to pay your fine if you get ticketed.

No matter the circumstances, anyone who has been cited for a traffic violation should be aware of one’s rights to a defense in a court of law.

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