Proceed with caution sign

Can I get a ticket for that? PROCEED WITH CAUTION

Perhaps you’ve seen a traffic device that says:


What does that sign mean, exactly? Is it enforceable? What happens if you drive by that sign and do NOT proceed with caution?

And, more to the point:

Can a New York police officer issue you a summons for disobeying this sign if you fail to proceed with caution?

Section 1111(a) of the New York Vehicle & Traffic Law makes it unlawful to disobey a traffic control device.

The law reads: “Every person shall obey the instructions of any official traffic-control device applicable to him placed in accordance with the provisions of this chapter, unless otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer, subject to the exceptions granted the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle in this title.”

The language of the law is broad and leaves much to interpretation by the police officer. And the law does not differentiate between signs which have an objective command (such as “no right turns” or “left lane must turn left”) and ones with subjective commands (“proceed with caution”).

In theory, then, the answer is yes. A police officer could observe you drive past the PROCEED WITH CAUTION sign, find that you are not proceeding with caution, and write you a ticket.

It would then be the officer or prosecutor’s burden to establish in Court that you did, indeed, disobey the sign. This might be harder to do, given that there is no clear legal definition of “caution” in the Vehicle; & Traffic Law.

Without a clear legal definition to default to, I would expect a judge to defer to the common meaning of the word. defines “caution” as “care taken to avoid danger or mistakes.” Thus, if the officer describes a pattern of driving after passing the sign that results in danger or a mistake, the charge might be sustained. If, for example, a motorist accelerated as she passed the PROCEED WITH CAUTION sign, and soon thereafter swerved into opposing traffic, causing an accident. In a case like this, a judge might reasonably hold that this driver disobeyed the traffic control device.

However, in such a situation, it’s more likely that a police officer would issue the motorist a ticket for a variety of other potential violations: dangerous driving, crossing the double yellow lines into oncoming traffic, unsafe lane change, etc. The traffic device would probably be low on the list.