A Quick Look at the Laws, Rules, and Regulations Governing Motor Sports in New York State

Ask anybody what sports New York State is known for and their initial responses would likely be baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. A more thoughtful response may include boxing, given Madison Square Garden’s status as the “Mecca of Boxing” and New York’s storied amateur boxing history, or tennis, as New York hosts the U.S. Open each year. Throughout New York State, however, motor sports comprise a quietly lucrative industry, with nearly 70 tracks and raceways from Long Island to Buffalo hosting NASCAR events, Indy Car racing, go-cart racing, drag racing, and several other types of motor sports. The questions then are what regulations are motor sports, professional or otherwise, subject to in New York, and who governs them? A quick look follows.

The New York State Laws Governing Motor Sports on Public Roads

Motors sports on public roads are neither regulated by the New York State Athletic Commission, which regulates combat sports, or the New York State Racing & Wagering Board, which concerns itself with horse racing and gambling. Instead, motor sports on public roads are regulated by the New York State Department of Transportation, in concert with State Police and the Department of Commerce, if a proposed race or speed contest is multi-jurisdictional, or otherwise by a myriad of public authorities and commissions and town and city local laws, ordinances, orders, rules, regulations, or health code provisions. The primary provisions governing motor sports on public roads are New York Vehicle and Traffic Law (“VTL”) Sections 1182 and 1182-a.

Section 1182 (“Speed Contests and Races”) provides that no one shall participate in motor sports on a New York State highway unless said motor sports are “fully and efficiently patrolled for the entire distance” over which they are held. The participants in such a competition are exempt from otherwise applicable traffic laws provided that they exercise “reasonable care.” An individual’s violation of Section 1182 is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days imprisonment or a fine of between $300 and $525, or both. If the same individual is convicted again on similar charges within a year of his first violation, he shall be punished by a maximum sentence of six months in jail or receive a fine of between $525 to $750, or both the said imprisonment and fine.

Under Section 1182-a (“Multi-Jurisdictional Speed Contests, Races and Similar Special Events”), if a proposed motor sport competition is to take place on a public highway that runs through more than one county, the Department of Transportation “may, by order, rule or regulation, prohibit or regulate” said competition. Before scheduling a proposed multi-jurisdictional race, the sponsor or organizer “shall apply, in writing, to the department of transportation for consideration of an authorization to conduct such an event.” “Such application shall be reviewed by the commissioner of transportation, the commissioner of economic development and the superintendent of state police, or their designees. Only if such persons unanimously agree that the proposed event should take place, the department of transportation shall continue the review process and shall establish such reasonable requirements as are necessary to protect the public safety.” In the event that a motor sport event approved by the aforementioned government entities results in a legal action, “no person or entity shall have the right to bring an action against the state or municipality or any person employed by the state or municipality who was acting within the scope of his authority for damages resulting from or in connection with any such race, contest or exhibition.”

VTL § 1630 (“Regulation of Traffic on Highways Under the Jurisdiction of Certain Public Authorities and Commissions”) provides, in relevant part, that a range of New York State public authorities and commissions “may by ordinance, order, rule or regulation prohibit, restrict or regulate traffic on…any highway, property or facility under its jurisdiction…provided, however, that such ordinances, rules, and regulations shall supersede the provisions of this chapter where inconsistent or in conflict with respect to…The prohibition or regulation of speed contests, races, exhibitions of speed, processions or parades.” With regard to traffic regulation in all New York State cities and villages, VTL § 1640 states, in relevant part, that:

“[t]he legislative body of any city or village, with respect to highways…subject to the limitations imposed by section sixteen hundred eighty-four may be local law ordinance, order, rule or regulation…[l]icense, regulate or prohibit speed contests, races, exhibitions of speed, processions, assemblages, or parades. Whenever such a speed contest, race, exhibition of speed, procession, assemblage or parade authorized by a local authority will block the movement of traffic on a state highway maintained by the state, or on a highway which connects two state highways maintained by the state to make a through route, for a period in excess of ten minutes, such authority must, prior to such blocking, provide and designate with conspicuous signs a detour adequate to prevent unreasonable delay in the movement of traffic on said highway maintained by the state.”

VTL § 1642 (“Additional Traffic Regulations in Cities Having a Population in Excess of One Million”) empowers “any city having a population in excess of one million…by local law, ordinance, order, rule, regulation or health code provision [to] prohibit, restrict, or regulate traffic on or pedestrian use of any highway…in such city. The provisions of section sixteen hundred shall be applicable to such local laws, ordinances, orders, rules, regulations, and health code provisions, provided, however, that [same] shall supersede the provisions of this chapter where inconsistent or in conflict with respect to…The prohibition or regulation of speed contests, races, exhibitions of speed, processions or parades.”

Finally, VTL § 1660 (“Traffic Regulation in All Towns”) provides, in relevant part that, “[t]he town board of any town with respect to highway outside of villages in any such town, but not including state highways maintained by the state…subject to the limitations imposed by section sixteen hundred eighty-four [“State Highways Maintained by the State”] may by ordinance, order, rule or regulation…[l]icense, regulate or prohibit speed contests, races, exhibitions of speed, processions, assemblages, or parades. Whenever such a speed contest, race, exhibition of speed, procession, assemblage or parade authorized by a local authority will block the movement of traffic on a state highway maintained by the state, or on a highway which connects two state highways maintained by the state to make a through route, for a period in excess of ten minutes, such authority must, prior to such blocking, provide and designate with conspicuous signs a detour adequate to prevent unreasonable delay in the movement of traffic on said state highway maintained by the state.”

A Sampling of the Private Regulations Governing Motor Sports in New York State

While the above-summarized sections of the Vehicle and Traffic Law all concern, in whole or in part, motor sports on public roads in New York State, the inquiry does not end there as to the regulation of motor sports in New York. In addition the aforementioned authorities, the multitude of race tracks and speedways throughout New York State have their own sets of competition and track rules to address such areas as safety, general conduct, and grounds for disqualification or the revocation of track privileges. Additionally, the national and regional organizations that govern the particular motor sports events that the racetracks host all have their own rules and regulations. To begin, Watkins Glen International Raceway, New York State’s signature motor sport venue, hosts a weekend of NASCAR racing every year, as well as events on for the Sports Car Club of America’s (“SCCA”) Majors Tour, the Indy Car Grand Prix, and the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix, which is staged by the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (“SVRA”). NASCAR’s various racing series are governing by different rule books that are not available to the public, but rather to NASCAR members only. The SCCA has annual “General Competition Rules” available on its website, as does the Indy Car Grand Prix and the SVRA.

The National Hot Rod Association (“NHRA”) stages events at three different raceways in New York, the Esta Safety Park in Cicero (“Esta”), the Lebanon Valley Dragway in West Lebanon (“Lebanon”), and the Spencer Speedway in Willamson (“Spencer”). The NHRA Rulebook is available to members online. Lebanon incorporates the NHRA Rulebook by reference on its website. At the same time, Esta has its own “Safety Park Dragstrip General Rules” which are expressly “[i]n addition to the NHRA Rulebook,” and Spencer, which also hosts a NASCAR All-American Series event, has its own “General Rules” in addition to expressly following “NHRA Drag Racing Rules and guidelines.” Separately, the International Motor Contest Association (“IMCA”), which also hosts events at several New York State locales, has its “General Rules” readily available on its website. Other smaller associations stage motor sports events at various New York State venues as well.

The above is just a sampling of the vast amount of association and site-specific rules and regulations which govern motor sport in New York State within the confines of its nearly 70 different venues. When combined with the Vehicle and Traffic Laws which govern motor sports on New York State’s public roads, it is plain that motor sports in New York State can be a cottage industry in itself for attorneys who take the time to become learned in its multitude of rules and regulations. Indeed, despite motor sport likely being overlooked in most New Yorkers’ lists of the Empire State’s signature sports, New York State has no shortage of its needs for those who wish to competitively speed.

Please do not hesitate to contact the Law Offices of Paul S. Haberman LLC with questions on any legal, regulatory, or contractual issues that you may encounter in the motor sports world in New York or New Jersey.