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The following is the 14th in a series of Odessa File columns by Jim Reed, managing partner of the Ziff Law Firm, regarding news of a legal nature that readers might find timely in this ever-changing world.
By Jim Reed
Our mid-November snowstorm has mostly melted, but it's not something most of us will forget any time soon. We jumped from raking leaves to shoveling and blowing wet, heavy snow in 24 hours.
So before the next storm strikes, here are some things Schuyler County motorists and property owners need to remember as we head into another unpredictable Twin Tiers winter.
About that "move over law" in New York State: Many of us have learned to slow down and move over to another lane when we encounter emergency responders on our four-lane highways, but did you know it's also the law to do it when you are driving 30 mph or so in a city, town or village? I see people ignoring emergency lights all the time when they're going slower speeds.
Here is another overlooked fact about the law: We all know we are supposed to slow down and pull over safely or stop for emergency vehicles such as police cars, firetrucks, and ambulances, but we are also supposed to provide a slow and safe buffer zone around other non-emergency vehicles such as snow plows, tow trucks, sanitation trucks, and road construction crews.
If an officer or trooper pulls you over for violating this law, VAT 1144-a, it's a moving violation that is punishable by two points on your license and a fine of $275. If you're pulled over for that violation, you might also see some additional charges: Failure to Yield the Right of Way (three points), Improper Passing (three points), Unsafe Lane Change (three points), Reckless Driving (five points), and Speeding (three to 11 points depending on the speed).
So if you see a vehicle with flashing amber, red or blue lights, slow down and decide carefully how you can get around them for your safety, theirs, and everyone else. On a two-lane road, moving over to the other lane may not be a safe move. You may have to stop and move over slowly, so be prepared to slow down and stop.
Also, about that snow on your car: If you have a buildup of snow and ice on your vehicle, it could pose a clear and present danger to vehicles behind you and can illegally obstruct your visibility out of your vehicle. You could be ticketed and face a civil lawsuit because you failed to take reasonable steps to make sure you could safely see.
A challenging season for property owners, too: Most communities have laws that require property owners to keep their sidewalks clear of snow and ice within a reasonable amount of time after a snowfall or ice storm. Keep your shovel and salt handy, and if possible, keep your snow blower full of gas and ready to go. If someone falls and gets injured on your property, you could be held liable.
If you are a renter, does your landlord handle snow removal or have they delegated that responsibility to you? Be sure to review your lease closely about sidewalk and driveway responsibility.
I talked about snow removal responsibility recently on WENY-TV's special report, "Winter Ready 2018." You can watch it here.
Bottom line: Our Twin Tiers winters are unpredictable, so my best advice is always to slow down and avoid distractions (your phone!) when driving, keep your sidewalk and driveway clear, and move over for all emergency vehicles.
Thanks for reading,
Photos in text: Attorney Jim Reed.
To see Jim Reed's first column, click here.
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869