The Box

As the long weekend approaches a lot of New Yorkers are thinking about traffic. So Mayor Bloomberg showed good timing in announcing yesterday a new plan to increase enforcement against drivers who "block the box." Although I wasn't invited to join the him on the traffic island at Times Square where he made the announcement, I'd like to join my council member, Gale Brewer, who was there, in saying that "I fully support Mayor Bloomberg's efforts to control this nuisance."

The clever part of the plan is a proposal (requiring NYS approval) to "reclassify" the violation. Right now blocking the box (for those who don't know "Blocking the box is a common term for driving into an intersection as the light is changing without room to continue through it, thus blocking traffic") is considered a "moving violation," instead of a "non-moving violation." How this can be I have no idea; if you were moving, you wouldn't be blocking the box. Maybe it's the moving that you do getting into the box that's the violation. Whatever the reason, the legal consequence is apparently that penalizing the driver requires a police officer to waste ten minutes issuing a ticket on the spot, probably while holding up traffic. The practical consequence is that it's not practical to issue many tickets for blocking the box. For non-moving violations, in contrast, traffic enforcement agents other than police officers can just enter a vehicle registration number into a handheld device, causing a ticket to be mailed to the driver. With this change, more tickets will be issued (one hopes).

In other words, although the Mayor doesn't put it this way, the plan is to boost enforcement by downgrading the violation. While the penalty would necessarily be reduced (although the ticket would actually go up to $115 from $90, the total penalty would go down because the "moving violation" box-blocking also puts 2 points on the violator's license, which can raise insurance rates among other things), the procedural hurdles to applying the penalties would be reduced as well. Although I'm reluctant to take the focus off NYC Memorial Day traffic, it's a nice example of how the effort to control a certain type of misconduct can be hampered by treating the misconduct as more serious than it actually is.

Have a nice weekend, and if you're going somewhere, drive safely, and don't block the box.