New York Car Accident and Personal Injury Laws

Learn about New York State motor vehicle and injury laws. Here’s how to protect your right to injury compensation for accidents caused by negligent drivers.

If you’ve been injured in a car accident in the State of New York, you may have questions about how the laws will affect your property damage or personal injury claim.

When an at-fault motorist caused your injuries, you are entitled to compensation whether you were driving, riding, or walking.

In this article, we’ll review the laws most commonly associated with car accidents.

For your convenience, we provide a summary of each law, along with a link to the specific New York statutes in each section.

Pedestrian Traffic Laws

Pedestrians and Crosswalks

The driver of a vehicle must stop and yield the right of way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a crosswalk.

NY VAT § 7-27-1151

Restrictions on Pedestrians Crossing Roadways

No pedestrian must enter any marked or unmarked crosswalk when traffic is so close that it might constitute an immediate hazard, nor must any pedestrian enter any marked or unmarked crosswalk where traffic signs forbid such entry.

NY VAT § 7-27-1152b

Pedestrian Control Signals

Pedestrians shall obey instructions on any traffic-control device specifically applicable, unless otherwise directed by a police officer.

NY VAT § 7-27-1150

Crossing at Other Than Crosswalks

Pedestrians intending to cross a roadway at any point other than within a marked crosswalk or within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield the right-of-way to all vehicles on the roadway.

Pedestrians must use only the marked crosswalk to cross between two adjacent intersections that have traffic-control signals in operation.

Pedestrians can cross an intersection diagonally only when it is authorized by traffic-control devices.

NY VAT § 7-27-1152

Pedestrians on Roadway

Where sidewalks are provided, it is unlawful for any pedestrian to walk along and upon adjacent roadway. Where sidewalks are not provided, pedestrians are permitted to walk only on or along the left side of the roadway or on it’s shoulder facing traffic from the opposite direction.

NY VAT § 7-27-1156

Pedestrians’ Right of Way on Sidewalks

The driver of a vehicle emerging from or entering an alley, building, private road, or driveway shall yield the right of way to any pedestrian approaching on any sidewalk extending across the alley, building entrance, road, or driveway.

NY VAT § 7-27-1151

Drivers to Exercise Due Care

The driver of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any bicyclists, pedestrian, or domestic animal upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the driver’s horn when necessary.

NY VAT § 7-26-1146

Vehicle Driving Laws

Obedience to Traffic Control Devices

A driver must obey any traffic control devices applicable to the driver, unless directed by a traffic or police officer.

NY VAT § 7-23-1101

Driving on Right Side of Roadway

Drivers must drive in the right lane of roadways with the following exceptions:

  • When overtaking or passing another driver in the same direction
  • When overtaking or passing a cyclist, pedestrian, or animals
  • When there is an obstruction in the right lane
  • Upon a roadway restricted to one way traffic
  • When travel on the shoulder or slope is permitted

Passing On the Left

Driver proceeding in the same direction must pass to the left at at a safe distance and must remain in the passing lane until it is safe to return to the right lane. Drivers being passed must not increase the speed of their vehicle until their vehicle is completely passed by the overtaking car.

NY VAT § 7-25-1122

Limitations on Overtaking on the Left

Drivers may drive to the left side of the center of the roadway in overtaking and passing another vehicle only if the left side is clearly visible and the overtaking vehicle can return to its lane without coming within two hundred (200) feet of oncoming traffic.

Also, the overtaking vehicle must not try to overtake in the following situations:

  • When approaching a crest or curve the obscures its visibility of oncoming traffic
  • When approaching within one hundred (100) feet of an intersection of railway crossing
  • When the view is obstructed upon approaching within one hundred feet of any bridge, viaduct or tunnel

Passing On the Right

Drivers may pass on the right under the following conditions:

  • When the driver about to be passed is about to make a left turn. However, the driver attempting to pass on the right must not do so without driving off the pavement of main-traveled portion of the roadway.
  • When the roadway has two (2) or more lanes of traffic moving in the same direction.
  • On a one-way street where the roadway is free from obstructions and wide enough for two or more lines of moving vehicles.

NY VAT § 7-25-1123

Following Too Closely

A driver must not follow another driver more closely than is “reasonable and prudent”, having due regard for the speed of other drivers and traffic conditions along the roadway.

A driver who is towing another vehicle must leave sufficient space ahead of their vehicle to allow an overtaking vehicle to enter and occupy this space without danger.

NY VAT § 7-25-1129

Drivers and Mobile Electronic Devices

Drivers must not drive while using a mobile cellular device or portable electronic device, except for the sole purpose of calling for emergency help.

NY VAT § 7-33-1225(c)

Drivers and Intersections

When two (2) drivers approach an intersection at approximately the same time the driver on the left must yield to the driver in the right.

NY VAT § 7-26-1140

Drivers Intending to Turn Left at Intersections

A driver who intends to turn left at an intersection, or into an alley, private road or driveway must yield the right of way to drivers approaching from the opposite direction.

NY VAT § 7-26-1141

Drivers Entering or Crossing a Roadway

A driver about to enter or cross a roadway from any place other than another roadway must yield the right of way to all other vehicles on the roadway to be crossed.

NY VAT § 7-26-1143

Bicycling Laws

Bicyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.

NY VAT § 7-34-1231

Motorcycling Traffic Laws


Motorcyclists must obey the same traffic laws as drivers of cars, and are subject to the same penalties as are drivers for violating traffic laws.

NY VAT § 7-34A-1250

Motorcyclists and Lanes of Traffic

Motorcyclists are entitled to the full use of a traffic lane and drivers must not take any action to deprive a motorcyclist of his or her right to use a full lane on a roadway. A motorcyclist must not pass another driver in the same lane. Motorcyclists must not ride more than two (2) abreast in a single lane.

NY VAT § 7-34A-1252

“Lane Splitting”

Motorcyclists must not pass another driver in the same lane. Commonly known as “lane splitting,” motorcyclists sometimes attempt to pass other drivers when traffic is slowed, or bumper to bumper. To move forward through traffic motorcyclists sometimes drive between cars. Doing so is not only illegal, but quite dangerous.

NY VAT § 7-34A-1252

Helmet Law

All motorcyclists must wear helmets while riding on roadways. If the motorcycle is not equipped with a windshield, then motorcyclists must also wear protective eyewear while riding on roadways.

NY VAT § 3-9-381

Motorcycles and Headlights

Every motorcycle riding on a roadway must have one (1) headlights turned on in the front and one (1) headlight turned on in the back from thirty (30) minutes prior to sunset to thirty (30) minutes after sunrise. The lights must be visible at lead two hundred (200) feet ahead of the motorcycle.

NY VAT § 3-9-381

Traffic Offenses and Accident Rules

Reckless Driving

A driver who drives in a way that unreasonably interferes with use of public highways, or who unreasonably endangers users of public highways is guilty of reckless driving.

NY VAT § 7-33-1212

Alcohol and Minors

A driver under the age of twenty one (21) must not drive upon any roadway after drinking sufficient amounts of alcohol to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.02 or greater.

NY VAT § 7-31-1192(a)

Driver’s Duty to Give Information and Render Aid

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person, including other drivers, passengers, and/ or passersby must give their name, address and the vehicle’s registration number, insurance information, and driver’s license information to any person injured in the accident, or to the driver, and passengers.

Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance.

NY VAT § 6-22-600

Accidents Involving Death, Personal Injury, or Substantial Bodily Injury

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person, including other drivers, passengers, and/or passersby must give their name, address and the vehicle’s registration number, insurance information, and driver’s license information to any person injured in the accident, or to the driver, and passengers.

The driver must also report the incident as soon as physically possible to a police officer, police state, or judicial officers. Moreover the driver must render to any person injured in the accident reasonable assistance.

NY VAT § 6-22-600

Accidents Involving Only Damage to Another Car or Property

A driver involved in an accident resulting only in damage to property or another car which is driven or attended by any person must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must remain at the scene of the accident until the driver has shared the required information.

NY VAT § 6-22-600

Accidents Involving Damage to Unattended Car or Unattended Property

A driver who collides with a parked car or who collides with other property which is unattended must immediately stop at the scene of the accident or as close to it as possible and must attempt to locate and notify the driver or owner of the damaged car or damaged property.

Once located the driver who caused the accident must give their name, address and the vehicle’s registration number, insurance information, and driver’s license information.

If the driver or owner of the damaged car or property cannot be located, the driver must report the accident to the nearest police station or judicial officer.

NY VAT § 6-22-600

Driver’s Duty to Notify Police Department

A driver involved in an accident resulting in injury, death, or damage to property totalling one thousand ($1,000) dollars or more must give notice to the nearest police officer, police office, or judicial officer within ten days of the accident.

NY VAT § 6-22-600

Accident Reports Filed By Police Departments

Every police officer or judicial officer who receives an accident report must immediately investigate the facts and report the matter to the commissioner.

NY VAT § 6-22-603

Go to the New York Department of Motor Vehicles website for downloadable accident forms.

Open Alcohol Container Law

A driver or passenger must not be in possession of an opened container of an alcoholic beverage or consume a controlled substance while the car is traveling on New York roadways.

A resealable wine container can be kept only in the trunk of a vehicle, in the space behind the rearmost upright seat, or in a location not normally occupied by a passenger. It cannot be kept in the utility or glove compartment.

Passengers of a hired passenger vehicle can consume and possess an opened container if the passenger vehicle has a permit.

NY VAT § 7-33-1227

Driving Under Influence of Alcohol or Controlled Substance

A driver must not drive after drinking an alcoholic beverage or consuming an intoxicant in an amount which renders the driver incapable of driving safely along roadways.

In New York, a driver is guilty of the offense of Operating a Vehicle Under the Influence of an Intoxicant if the driver has a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is .08 or higher.

NY VAT § 7-31-1192

Ignition Interlock Device

A driver who is guilty of driving while under the influence of an intoxicant might be ordered to have installed at his or her own expenses an ignition interlock device. The ignition interlock device will serve to restore the driver’s driving privileges during the pendency of the driver’s probation. If an ignition device is installed, it must be installed in every car owned or operated by the driver.

An ignition interlock is a device which measures any amount of alcohol contained in a driver’s body. Before starting the car the driver must blow into a tube emanating from the ignition interlock device.

If the device then detects a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) higher than is permitted by law the car will not start and the violation will be reported to the prosecutor, the probation officer, and/or the judge. At that point the driver may be subject to loss of driving privileges, immediate arrest and incarceration up to the maximum term provided by law.

NY VAT § 7-31-1198

Accident Liability Laws

New York Dram Shop Law

New York has a Dram Shop Law. Dram Shop Law refers to the liability of private social hosts, bars, hotels nightclubs and other commercial establishments who serve alcohol to patrons or to minors for injuries intoxicated patrons or minors cause to third parties such as in car accidents.

A private social host is the host at a private party, such as a wedding reception, a corporate sponsored event, a gathering of friends at a private residence, where alcohol is served not for profit.

Under New York law, it is illegal for a social host or a commercial establishment to sell alcohol to a person under the age of twenty-one (21) or an intoxicated person. The person who sold the alcohol illegally is liable for the actions of the intoxicated person.

Financial Responsibility Car Insurance Minimum Limits

In the State of New York, each motor vehicle must be covered by an insurance policy that includes liability coverage of the following amounts for all damages resulting from an accident:

  • At least $25,000 per person
  • At least $50,000 for two (2) or more people
  • $10,000 per occurrence for property damage

NY VAT § 3-7-345

See the New York DMV Auto Insurance page for more information.

Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)

In New York, the victim in a car accident can sue the negligent driver for compensation. The victim’s liability in causing the accident, their comparative negligence, affects the amount of compensation the victim receives.

If the victim contributed less than 51% of the negligence that caused the accident, then their compensation is reduced by the amount they contributed to the accident.

If the victim contributed 51% or more of the negligence that caused the accident, then the victim is barred from receiving any compensation.

NY CVP § 50(B)-5041

Example of Comparative Negligence (51% Rule)

One morning, Jackson was driving north on his way to work. At an intersection, he pulled into the left turn lane. At the same time, Melanie approached the intersection from the opposite direction. Suddenly, Jackson turned left into Melanie’s lane and their cars collided.

Melanie sustained serious brain injuries and damage to her car, totalling in $100,000 dollars worth of damages.

After their investigation, the police determined that Jackson had failed to yield according to traffic laws. A pedestrian witness told police he saw Melanie texting at the time Jackson’s car crashed into Melanie’s. As a result, the police issued Melanie a citation for using a mobile device while driving.

Melanie sued Jackson for $100,000 and claimed he was 100% at fault for the accident because he did not yield to her right-of-way. At trial, the jury found Jackson liable for failing to yield the right-of-way. However, the jury also found Melissa liable for using a mobile device while driving and partially responsible for the accident.

The verdict stated Jackson’s negligence equaled 70% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 30%. The jury awarded Melanie only $70,000 dollars.

In the event the jury had found Jackson’s negligence equaled 49% of the accident, and Melanie’s equaled 51%, the jury would be barred by law from awarding Melanie any compensation for the damages.

New York’s No Fault Car Insurance

In New York, car owners purchase no-fault car insurance. No-fault insurance allows a person, who is injured in a car accident or whose property is damaged, to file a claim with their own car insurance company.

No-fault insurance allows a person to avoid pursuing a negligent driver for compensation for damages. No-fault insurance does not compensate for pain and suffering, and the amount of personal injury protection (PIP) insurance purchased by the injured party determines their coverage.

NY ISC § 51-5103

Statute of Limitations

New York has a three (3) year statute of limitations for property damage and personal injury claims. This means if a driver, passenger, or passerby is injured or sustains property damage at the hands of a negligent driver, the victim must file a lawsuit within the three (3) year period following the date of the accident.

NY CVP § 2-214

Small Claims Courts

In New York, victims of car accidents can choose to sue the negligent driver in small claims court. In New York, the jurisdiction of a small claims court regarding personal injury and property damage is limited to a maximum of five thousand ($5,000) in City Courts and three thousand ($3000) in Town or Village Courts. To submit a claim in small claims court, visit the New York Courts website.

New York Government Tort Claims – Sovereign Immunity

In New York, it is possible to submit a claim against a governmental agency or its employees for personal injury or property damage as a result of negligence on the part of the governmental agency or its employees. The claim must refer to an lawful action on the part of the governmental agency or employee performed in the scope of their duties.

If the injury or property damage occurred as a result of an unlawful action, then the claimant can sue only the person(s) who caused injury or property damage individually. The governmental agency would not be liable.

NY CTC § 2/8

Example: Accident Caused by Government Worker 

If Melissa, an engineer with the New York Planning Department, ran a red light on her way to a worksite and caused an accident, then the City of New York would be liable for the property damage and personal injuries caused her.

If Melissa stopped for a few drinks and became intoxicated before heading to a worksite and causing an accident, then the City of New York can claim sovereign immunity. Melissa performed an unlawful act and was not acting in the scope of her duties when she became intoxicated on her way to the worksite.

To seek compensation for damages, injured parties would have to sue Melissa personally. The determination of whether or not Melissa was acting within the scope of her duties would have to be decided during a trial.

A government tort claim must be filed against the governmental agency responsible for the car accident within ninety (90) days after the accident.

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