As anyone who has driven in New York City knows, the traffic in the city is often horrible. In addition to the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, New York City has its own set of rules governing traffic and parking. One of the more important New York City driving rules is Section 4-07(b)(2). This rule prohibits drivers from causing spillback (aka "blocking the box"). There is a similar provision of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL Section 1175), but most spillback summonses are issued in New York City under the NYC Traffic Rules. The obvious purpose of the rule is to keep traffic moving freely through intersections by preventing gridlock. The key to understanding this rule is to realize that the law does not prohibit drivers from getting stuck in the intersection. Instead, the law looks to the moment when the driver enters the intersection. The law prohibits drivers from entering the intersection and its crosswalks unless he/she has enough space on the other side of the intersection in his/her lane of travel. What this means is the violation occurs when the motorist enters the intersection, not when he/she gets stuck.
Spillback summonses carry two motor vehicle points. All spillback summonses issued in New York City are adjudicated at the Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB). As discussed elsewhere on my website, there is no plea bargaining permitted at the TVB. That is the bad news. The good news is that it is often possible to beat these summonses. Officers frequently write summonses for spillback without really understanding the rule. They will come into court and tell the judge that the motorist got stuck in the crosswalk. This is not enough! The officer must testify to the traffic conditions when the motorist entered the crosswalk. Police testimony often fails to establish a prima facie case of spillback, resulting in a good success rate for experienced traffic ticket lawyers. If you receive one of these summonses, it is worth fighting.