DRIVING AT A SPEED NOT REASONABLE AND PRUDENT UNDER THE CONDITIONS [NY VTL 1180(a)]

February 8, 2011 by Tilem & Associates

You’re driving across I 287 eastbound in Greenburgh, New York one night heading towards White Plains. You have your cruise control set a 55 mph. You cannot possibly get a speeding ticket, right? Unbeknownst to you however, about an hour earlier the police finished clearing an accident just a mile or so ahead of you on I 287. Oil had spilled on the roadway. As you pass, your car skids on the oil; you lose control of the car and slam into the dividing wall.

A State Trooper arrives and asks you what happened. You explain that you must have skidded on some oil or similar substance. He asks how fast you were going and you tell him you had your cruise control set at 55 mph. The next thing you know, the Trooper, who most likely is not an accident reconstruction expert, who didn’t witness your accident or undertake any type of accident investigation, is handing you a speeding ticket.

How can you get a speeding ticket when you were driving at the speed limit? Under New York Vehicle and Traffic Law sec. 1180(a), a driver can be charged with driving “a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.”

Should you have had regard to the potential hazard of an oil spill on the road? If you came upon the accident scene before it was cleared away when there were emergency vehicles still present it could be argued that you should have known there was a potential hazard for which you should have slowed down. However, its not reasonable for one to have regard for a potential hazard (such as an oil spill) when one is driving in clear weather with no apparent hazards on the roadway.

Keep in mind; a charge of “speed not prudent” under VTL 1180(a) has nothing to do with the legal speed limit. Drivers are required to reduce their speed when conditions or actual or potential hazards are present. For example, a driver cannot continue to drive 55 mph during an ice storm even if the speed limit is 55 mph. Or, one cannot pass an accident scene at the maximum speed limit. Under such circumstances, it would not be prudent to drive at the maximum speed limit.

However, as I will discuss in future blogs, an accident alone does not mean one’s speed was not reasonable and prudent. Accidents occur for many reasons unrelated to excessive speed. I have found that officers issue tickets for “speed not prudent” as a matter of unwritten policy anytime they come upon an accident wherein a car left the roadway or skidded into something. This is wrong. Speed not prudent tickets should be issued where weather conditions or road conditions (such as accidents and disabled vehicles) that drivers should reasonably know about require a driver to reduce their speed to below the legal speed limit.


If you have been issued a ticket for “speed not prudent” [VTL 1180(a)] or any other traffic offense (including DWI), please contact us toll free at 1-877-377-8666 or visit me on the web at www.DrSummons.com or www.888DwiCounsel.com.

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