New York State Traffic Laws - a Critique

   NYS  traffic and parking  laws intentionally criminalize  reasonable,
safe, and common driving  behavior for  the express and  cynical purpose 
of  taxing  citizens;  this serves to undermine the moral authority of the
state and  is an  abuse of the police, courts and populace. 
   These laws are at best paternalistic (in a way counter to the appropriate
use of government in a free society), and at worst abusive and
unproductive in a wide variety of ways. 
   Drivers come to resent the police  (people we pay to protect us,
not prey upon us) and come to see the courts that try traffic offences
as unjust - as their function is largely to find "offenders" guilty 
so that funds may be raised.  These laws are an unfair and arbitrary 
method of taxation which  selectively penalizes  the more efficient and 
time pressed of citizens , continuing a trend towards the punishment of
the productive middle class in New York , a process which has already 
driven out  hundreds of thousands of  jobs and businesses. 
   Disputing these unjust fines is a time consuming nightmare with the
intended  result that most  people don't bother to fight the tickets.
   When one does fight one is confronted with a  bureaucracy which seems 
to care little for the time and energy of the citizens it's supposedly 
there to serve.

   Speed laws

   We are all familiar with roads whose speed limit is set 20 to 30 miles
per hour lower than a safe speed. On these roads the vast majority of 
drivers always exceed the speed limit, and thus drive constantly under
the pressure  of  the fact they are subject to being stopped and fined,
perhaps with the loss of their license and the great likelihood  of an
increase in their  insurance rates. This is as true on "30 MPH" roads
as it is on major highways.
   I suggest here that this is the intent of the state; these laws are 
intended not to make for safer conditions, but to create as many law 
breakers as possible.
   If the State and County cared as much for our efficiency and freedom 
as they care for taking money from us, these limits would be raised.   
While the state already takes far too much of our income in direct and
hidden taxes , the primary destructive  aspect here is the moral. 
   We rely on the state to FAIRLY enforce rational and fair laws; this
is one of the few proper functions of the state in the first place.
Here we know the state is unfairly enforcing unfair laws; what becomes 
to your sense of the fairness and trustworthiness  of  the state ?
   The policeman giving you the ticket knows it to be nonsense, and often
hides this fact from himself in  greater anger at all "lawbreakers". 
Judges know this too, and the ones I talk with hide behind the idea of
the state needing to protect us from ourselves; we are too incompetent 
to drive uncontrolled I had one judge tell me. While there may be limits 
on driving properly enforced by  police , they are far above those we 
live with.
   To a degree the situation is  as  simple as the state criminalizing 
and taxing for example, breathing . If that were the case then we would 
all stand a roughly equal chance of being fined. Rather  here it is the
middle class who suffers, as the poor don't own cars and the wealthy  
can easily absorb the fines and higher insurance rates. 
   The common justification for these laws, that they are necessary for
our safety, is nonsense.
   The vast majority of us drive at what we feel at the moment is a safe
speed; we wish to  avoid the hospital.  Those of use less concerned with
arriving  in one piece are not likely to be held in check by the fear 
of a ticket. The primary effect of these laws is only to punish  a large 
number of safe drivers who were unlucky enough to be seen by a policeman
as they were doing something reasonable- again, this is what the state 
   Various western states have high or no speed limits, and the argument 
that they are sparsely populated (and so fast driving is safe) is refuted 
by Germany, which is very densely settled, but has equally  high limits.
I believe New Yorkers to be as good drivers as Germans. The argument that
more people would be injured in traffic accidents is answered, in part,
by suggesting we all stay home in bed, which is very safe; but be sure  
you don't smoke or leave your electric blanket on while you drink your tea.
   Or perhaps the state should lower the limit to 5 MPH, fine away all of 
our money and take good care of us.
   Traffic laws and their use reflect larger issues in our political 
culture at this time. If we are adults  in a free society  we should
demand of our government that it treats us as adults. We known ourselves
to be safe and responsible drivers; many of us will suspect our neighbors
not to be, and thus justify restrictive laws.  This runs counter to
ideals of freedom and the "social contract" which suggests that you
should be as free as possible, only restricted insofar as you impinge 
on another's freedom. To maintain our freedom, we  must trust our 
neighbors, as we demand to be trusted ourselves. One maintains  a free 
and responsible citizenry not by coercing and forcing what is deemed 
to be proper behavior, but rather by  maintaining the freedom that led 
to a responsible ,mature and sophisticated culture in the first place. 

   Stop Signs:

   You approach a  stop sign in a car; there's an intersection, and you slow
down to look both ways, as you don't wish to  spend your next paycheck in 
an autobody shop or a doctor's office- the road's clear, and  you make your
turn. Most of the time you never stop your car fully, and we know this to 
be perfectly safe.  You do this a hundred times, or a thousand, and then do
it with a policeman behind you in an unmarked car. He's behind on his 
ticket quota, and even though he likely drives in the same way  himself,
as do most all judges and state legislators , he pulls you over and fines 
   Again, you are bright and mature enough not to need a sign to tell you
to stop. You need a sign informing you of  an upcoming  intersection, 
and nothing more.
   Replacing these signs with something like "Upcoming intersection, slow 
down, be prepared to stop, look both ways, let the other guy go first if 
he got there before you." would be expensive. Perhaps we could leave the 
signs as they are and just rationally  deal with problems resulting from 
people who really do abuse the situation( like going through the
intersection without  slowing  enough not to cause an accident).
   At the least, there is no need to enforce the  stop rule obsessively ; 
it is only a silly excuse to take money from  us. 
   Rather than trivial, this is the most common interaction a citizen has 
with his government; once ticked, we are in the maw of the state,
forced to appear in court or be fined, subject to having a warrant
for our arrest issued if court dates are missed - all for - what ? 


   Parking fines run along the same lines. In New York City especially,
but all through the state, these rules are designed to make people break 
them. Parking rules are obscure, periods vary wildly and essentially 
harass drivers. The city  then uses the power of the state to extort money 
through garnisheeing wages or threats of  sizing the car. As with driving 
"offences" redress is a time consuming nightmare. Most people don't bother
to fight the tickets. When one does fight one is confronted with a stupid
and incompetent bureaucracy , which cares nothing for time it wastes. 
As the people in this bureaucracy  produce nothing of value, they  
can little understand that they are wasting the time of people who need 
to work.
   In all ways the state is abusing and preying on its citizens, not
assisting them. One effect is that I , a man with numerous New York 
City parking fines, have largely ceased going to that city; while I miss 
the theater and  museums , I can hope the City missed my disposable income. 
This has been one more small but real part of the process  in my  
deciding not to buy a house in this state. I intend to take myself 
and my business out of the New York. If you think I'm foolish for being
motivated by such small issues , ask yourself why so many others have 
left.  Perhaps these issues were a part of a broader sense of abuse
these people felt.
   If the state wants more of your money , it should take it openly. 
It should raise taxes , not try  to hide it, and not ruin our relationship 
with  the police and the courts in the process.

   Written by Arthur Heyman   516 689 6449. Email:

Take a look at two fine sites on this issue: Car and Driver and NCASL