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Due to the number of highways that pass through it, many speeding tickets are issued in the Town of Greenburgh. The Bronx River Parkway, Route 119, I 287, the New York State Thruway (I 87) and the Sprain Brook Parkway all pass through Greenburgh. While there are posted maximum speed limits on these highways, there are times when drivers are legally required to drive below the posted speed limit.

Whatever the posted limit is, VTL 1180(a) requires that people drive at a speed “reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.” Id. Often, VTL 1180(a) is used as a “catch all” by the police to ticket anyone who has an accident or leaves the roadway for “speed not prudent.” Of course, without an accident investigation of some type, it is wholly inappropriate for an officer to issue a “speed not prudent” ticket simply because a driver was involved in an accident or skidded of the roadway.

There are also several specific situations when a driver must reduce his speed. A driver must drive at an appropriate reduced speed when
(1) approaching and crossing an intersection or railway grade crossing;
(2) approaching and going around a curve;
(3) when approaching a hill crest;
(4) when approaching and passing by an emergency situation involving any authorized emergency vehicle which is parked, stopped or standing on a highway and which is displaying one or more red or combination red, white, and/or blue lights;
(5) when traveling upon any narrow or winding roadway;
(6) and when any special hazard exists with respect to pedestrians, or other traffic by reason of weather or highway conditions, including, but not limited to a highway construction or maintenance work area.
[VTL 1180(e)]
Most people are surprised to learn that even if there is no sign indicating a reduced speed limit, they must reduce their speed at intersections, around curves, when approaching a hill and on narrow and winding roads. [VTL 1180(e)]

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Tilem & Associates won a complete victory in a DWI trial in Greenburgh last week after more than three years of litigation. The trial lasted two days and the defense focused on the lack of evidence that the driver was actually operating the vehicle which is a requirement in any DWI or DWAI trial. The driver had been facing up to a year in jail, revocation of his driving privileges a substantial fine and surcharge and imposition of the New York State Driver Responsibility Assessment.

The DWI arrest came about after an incident in the driver’s condominium parking lot where he was found asleep at the wheel with the engine running. Greenburgh police claimed that when they woke him he put the car in gear. Police further claimed that he was too intoxicated to perform field sobriety tests.

Mr. Tilem has had extensive training in DWI related topics including DUI detection, Field Sobriety Testing and conducting DWI trials. He has won 7 of 8 DWI trials in the last eighteen months.

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Many speeding tickets issued in Greenburgh, New York are issued on I 287. For the past several years there has been construction along parts of I 287 including that portion of I 287 that runs through Greenburgh which has created a “speed trap” where the speed drops from 55 mph to 45 mph. As with most speeding tickets, the officer alleges that he first made a visual estimate of the vehicle’s speed and then confirmed his visual estimate with a radar or laser unit.

In most cases the officer is in a stationary patrol car somewhere on the side of the road. In People v. Magri (1958) the New York Court of Appeals recognized the general reliability of radar speed detection thus making no longer necessary for the prosecution to produce an expert at speeding ticket trials involving radar speed detection.

The Magri decision concerned stationary radar. In other words, the radar unit was in a parked police car. The Magri decision did not address the general reliability of moving radar – radar readings taken while the police car is moving. However, in People v. Knight, 72 N.Y.2d 481 (1988), the New York Court of Appeals found that because the underlying scientific principles of moving and stationary radar are the same, moving radar evidence should also be admissible without the need for expert testimony to explain the nature, function or scientific principles underlying radar.

Therefore, whether the case involves stationary or moving radar, the prosecution will not need to produce an expert at trial. However, the prosecution will need to prove that the particular unit was in proper working order and that the officer was properly trained and properly used the unit when he measured the vehicle’s speed.

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At Tilem & Associates, our attorneys are familiar with the law and the science behind traffic cases such as speeding and DWI. You’ve been issued speeding ticket in Greenburgh, New York (or any other jurisdiction within New York State) and you appear for your court ordered “conference” with the prosecutor at which time the prosecutor may or may not offer to reduce the charge in return for you pleading guilty to the reduced charge and waiving your right to trial.

In the event you cannot reach an amicable plea bargain with the prosecutor, your case will be scheduled for trial. At trial, the officer will generally testify that he first made a visual estimate of your speed and then verified that estimate with either a radar or laser unit. In People v. Magri (1958), the New York Court of Appeals acknowledged the general reliability of radar speed detection thus making it unnecessary for the prosecution to present expert testimony at speeding ticket trials involving radar.

In People v. Knight, 72 N.Y.2d 481 (1988), the New York Court of Appeals acknowledged the general reliability of moving radar as well. Whether the case involves stationary or moving radar, the prosecution still must prove that the particular radar unit was working properly at the time it measured defendant’s speed and that the officer was properly trained and used the unit properly.

However, because the potential for error is greater with moving radar than with stationary radar, the Court of Appeals also held in People v. Knight that when the prosecution is premised upon moving radar as opposed to stationary radar, “the prosecution will bear a greater burden of proof in demonstrating the accuracy of the particular radar unit involved.” Id at 487.

This can make a difference where the speed is based upon moving radar because most officers are not trained to visually estimate the speed of a vehicle while the officer is in a moving vehicle. Therefore, if you were able to convince the court to exclude the moving radar evidence, the officer might not be able to substantiate the charge based solely upon his visual estimate as he could if he made the visual estimate while stationary (as he was trained).
Is this a likely scenario? Probably not as most courts admit radar and laser testimony on the flimsiest of foundational evidence. Nevertheless, an attack on the legality of the vehicle stop can be critical where that stop leads to an arrest on a more serious charge such as DWI, Aggravated Unlicensed Operator, weapons possession or drug possession. If the basis of the stop is found to be illegal (unconstitutional), it may result in the suppression of all evidence derived from the stop.

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Most officers who issue speeding tickets in New York will typically testify that they first made a visual estimate of the speed of the vehicle and then confirmed that estimate with either a radar or laser unit.

At a speeding ticket trial in New York, the prosecution need not present expert testimony to explain how radar speed detection works or its scientific principles. In People v. Magri (1958) the New York Court of Appeals recognized for the first time, the general reliability of radar speed detection thus making it no longer necessary for the prosecution to produce an expert at speeding ticket trials involving radar speed detection.

Accordingly, held the Court of Appeals, “the time has come when we may recognize the general reliability of the radar speedmeter as a device for measuring the speed of a moving vehicle. Therefore, continued the Court, “it will no longer be necessary to require expert testimony in each case as to the nature, function or scientific principles underlying [radar].” Id at 566.

Of course the prosecution still must show that the particular radar unit the officer used was in proper working order. Id. Usually the officer testifies that he conducted an internal calibration test. This is generally done by the officer pushing a “test” button on the unit. If it is working properly a specific number will appear on the LED readout. The unit can also be tested by tapping a tuning fork provided by the manufacturer and holding it in front of the unit. The tuning fork is set to a certain speed. If the unit is working properly it will display the speed the tuning fork is set for. Also, the officer can test the unit by having another vehicle drive through the radar beam at a known speed and see if the radar unit displays the correct speed.

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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.

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