The New York City Inline Skating Guide
- New York State Law
- New York City Law
- New Jersey State Law
- Public Authorities
- Federal Law
- Final Notes
Yes, there is statewide law regarding inline skating. In fact, New York was pretty much the first state to institute comprehensive inline laws.
Basically, the various section of state skating law have two general purposes: regulating the activities of individual inline skaters and regulating the sale and manufacture of inline skates. The former part, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1996, basically gives skaters similar rights and responsibilities as those held by bicyclists. That may not sound like much, but in much of the rest of the country, skaters do not have an explicit right to skate on the streets. In many places, old laws are still in place which classify and ban it as "playing" on the streets.
Current state law:
Broken down by section, following are a summary and extracts of New York State Statutes known to affect inline skating as of summer 2007. For a somewhat more official interpretation, see the Governor's Traffic Safety Committee FAQ.
Vehicle and Traffic Law
- Title I: Article 1: Words and phrases defined.
- Section 140-a. In-line skates defined.
- Section 140-b. Roller skates defined.
- Title VII. Article 34: Operation of bicycle and play devices
- Section 1230. These laws apply to skating on public roads, on private roads open to public traffic, and on all bike and skate trails.
- Section 1231. You have similar rights and duties as are held by the driver of a motor vehicle. In other words, skating on public roads (excluding expressways, interstates and certain other roads) is legal but you must honor all traffic laws (e.g., obey traffic lights, no wrong-way skating, etc.).
- Section 1233. You may not attach yourself to any vehicle in motion, i.e., no "skitching".
- Section 1234. If there is a bike/skate lane, you must use it. If not, you must skate as far to the right side of the street as possible so as to not interfere with traffic. If you are skating in a group, you may not skate more than two abreast. You must skate single file if there is other traffic which wishes to pass by you.
- Section 1235. You may not carry any article or package which would obstruct your view.
- Section 1238. Any child under 14 must wear a helmet when skating. This is a $50 offense, the ticket being issued to the skater's parent/guardian. When skating at night, you must wear a jacket or other clothing with reflective material.
- Section 1240. "Hit-and-run skating" which causes physical injury is a violation.
- Section 1241. "Hit-and-run skating" which causes serious physical injury is a Class B misdemeanor.
General Business Law
- Article 26. Miscellaneous
- Section 391-m. Regulates the manufacture and sale of inline skates, i.e., important stuff if you own a skate shop. Basically, skate makers and sellers must sell skates with brakes, or else attach a warning label that a brakeless skate is for expert use only.
Public Health Law
- Article 2. Title I. Department of Health officers and employees
- Section 206, subdivision 15. Authorizes the public health commissioner to create an inline skating helmet distribution program.
Comprehensive New York skating law was originally signed by Governor George Pataki on Nov. 20, 1995, and went into effect the following Jan. 1. But a number of significant problems in the law necessitated a fairly thorough revision, especially to the business segment. Corrective legislation sped through the legislature and was signed by the governor on Feb. 20, 1996. (See Laws of New York, 1995, Ch. 694 [aka 1995 Assembly bill A-5954-C] and Laws of New York, 1996, Ch. 16.)
Additional legislation was passed in 2001 that made "hit-and-run" skating a Class B misdemeanor or violation, depending on the injury done. That law went into effect Nov. 2002. (See Laws of New York, 2001, Ch. 468.) Further changes were made in 2004 to extend some of the regulations to skate boarders; however, section 1231 was not altered to specifically allow boarders to skate on the streets.
The business section of the law was amended in 2000 to require the use of reflective material in the construction of skates, and then subsequently re-amended in 2001 to exempt specialty (hockey and speed) skates from the requirement. (See Laws of New York, 2000, Ch. 18 [aka 2000 Assembly bill A-5912] and Laws of New York, 2001, Ch. 351.)
Some laws affected skating are introduced every year; few get passed. In the late 1990s, there were many attempts to amend the law to ban inline skating on the sidewalk or that would have made skate helmets exempt from sales tax. Those no longer seem to get introduced anymore. Instead, most of the recent proposed laws would alter the liability status of persons who own property used by skaters (i.e., skateparks, but also any property where skaters might hang about) have been introduced and gone nowhere. The last law passed which directly affected skaters seems to have been the hit-and-run skating law of 2002.
In spring 1996, the city council passed Local Law 1996/043, making it illegal to skate recklessly, this being defined as skating in a fashion such as to threaten the health or possessions of another person. The fine is $50 to $100. (The law was signed by Mayor Giuliani in mid-June and went into effect in August 1996.) The law is on the books as:
- New York City Administrative Code S 19-176.1
The reckless skating law was a compromise version of a proposal which originally included a ban on skating on the sidewalks by any person over age 14. Happily for skaters, that provision was removed. Nevertheless, city and state politicians have been known to advocate such a ban, including laws proposed in the state legislature. Skaters are thus enouraged to keep their heads screwed on and to skate no faster than a walking pace while on the sidewalk, lest there be an incident which would provide fuel for hostile politicians.
Preliminary signs seemed to indicate that the police would active enforce the reckless skating law, along with the various state skating laws. Among these signs was a spate of reports of skaters being stopped by police in early August 1996 (including the author of this skate guide) and given warnings that something that they had just done would in the near future warrant a ticket. However, since that date, the only known consistent effort by NYPD to enforce skating laws was during August 1998, when they patrolled Central Park on the weekends, looking for violations of the reckless skating law.
But this isn't to say that the police will always ignore your skating infractions. There have been periodic police crackdowns on illegal cycling, usually at the precinct level and occasionally borough- or city-wide. But as of early 2013, one such clampdown has been in effect in much of Manhattan for close to two years. Cyclists from the Village to Central Park have been ticketed for things that five years earlier would have drawn a yawn from the police. So skate legally as much as possible, be courteous to all pedestrians, and things should be cool.
Regarding other city skate law, on Sep. 16, 1996, the city council held a hearing for discussion of three proposed Local Laws (aka "Intros") which would affect cyclists and skaters. In particular, Int. 0844-1996 would have required that all inline skaters in the city to wear helmets. The proposed law was the immediate result of the death of a skater in Central Park the previous month after a collision with a cyclist. Although there were rumors that Int. 844 had passed, the city council website would seem to indicate that it did not.
A couple other Intros which were proposed to the city council but which also never passed were Int. 1042-1997, which would have made it illegal to be using earphones while skating or cycling, and Int. 0631-1999, which duplicated the state's existing requirement for reflective clothing when skating after dark.
New Jersey instituted its skating law almost by accident. The story goes that during the 1997 legislative session, a law was passed to create a helmet requirement for skaters under the age of 14 (see New Jersey Public Law 1997, Ch. 411). Broadly interpreted, however, the law also made rollerskaters and skateboarders equivalent to motor vehicles, so that one could, theoretically, legally skate on the Jersey Turnpike! However, an alert police officer noticed what was going on, and as a result, the New Jersey legislature passed a follow-up bill granting all communities in the state the right to regulate skating in their jurisdictions (see New Jersey Public Law 1998, Ch. 36). After that, the only notable change to New Jersey skating law has been that Public Law 2005, Ch. 208, raised the helmet age from 14 to 17.
But note that just like in New York, skaters breaking traffic law are subject to the same fines as motor vehicle drivers. So skating through a red light or not signalling a turn means a fine if a police officer decides that you're worth the ticket. (Keep in mind that Jersey cops seem to be, in general, less tolerant of skaters than NYC cops.)
Broken down by section, following are a summary and extracts of various New Jersey State Statutes which affect inline skating as of summer 2007. In addition to the following, there are a number of New Jersey laws which affect skating rink operations.
Title 39: Motor Vehicles and Traffic Regulation
- 39:4-10.5 Defines roller skates, no matter how many wheels or how they're oriented. Skaters under age 17 must wear helmets.
- 39:4-10.6 The penalty for violating the helmet law is $25 on the first instance, and up to $100 after that.
- 39:4-10.8 Businesses selling skates must attach warning labels.
- 39:4-10.9 Businesses renting skates must post signs regarding the helmet law and must also be able to provide helmets.
- 39:4-10.10 You may skate on roads.
- 39:4-10.10a Towns may, if they so wish, restrict skating more than does state law.
- 39:4-10.10b The state isn't obligated to construct "skater-only" lanes on roads.
- 39:4-10.11 You must skate on the right side of the road. You may not skate more than two abreast, and must skate single-file when traffic wishes to pass.
(You can keep an eye out for Jersey legislative activity via the legislature homepage.)
New York state law grants public authorities, such as the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the right to regulate or ban skating on their premises. The regulations are listed in the New York Codes, Rules and Regulations. Pretty much all state property in the city is covered one way or another. Of note:
NYCRR Title 21, Chapter XVI, Hudson River Park Trust:
- Section 751.7, o-3 and r: It's illegal to skate in Hudson River Park except in designated areas. It's illegal to skate in Hudson River Parkn a reckless fashion, etc. (Section 751.4-d lists fines of up to $500.)
NYCRR Title 21, Chapter XXI, Metropolitan Transportation Authority:
- Section 1040.5, k-2: Use of skates in Staten Island Rapid Transit stations is prohibited. (Section 1097.12, c, lists a fine of up to $50 or up to 30 days imprisonment.)
- Section 1050.7, k-2: Wearing roller or inline skates in the subway system is disorderly conduct. (Section 1050.10 lists fines of $25 to $100, or imprisonment up to 10 days.)
- Section 1085.5, j: Use of skates in Metro-North train stations is prohibited. (Section 1085.15, c, lists a fine of up to $50 or up to 30 days imprisonment.)
- Section 1097.5, j: Use of skates in Long Island Rail Road stations is prohibited. (Section 1097.15, c, lists a fine of up to $50 or up to 30 days imprisonment.)
Inline skating is apparently not permitted on U.S. government property because of a federal law that prohibits rollerskating in federal facilities unless specifically authorized. This apparently extends to outside stairways, so technically, bashing the steps of the courthouse on Foley Square or the General Post Office in Midtown is a federal offense.
I mentioned skitching above, but some further comments should probably be made in regards to the safety of such activity. An early 1994 New York Times article featured interviews with a couple hardcore skitchers, and their stories invariably detailed injuries and/or near-death events and/or fleeing from the cops. Furthermore, a 13-year-old Bronx skater was killed while attempting to skitch a Metro bus on Dec. 2, 1996, with six of his friends; the bus driver never even noticed what had happened. So if skitching is something you want to try, just remember that besides the fact that it's illegal, one false move by you or a motorist, or just a bad patch of asphalt, could turn you into roadkill.
If you do violate a law while skating, I hope you're carrying some identification or are ready to get seriously disrespected. NYC police officers seem to get in a snit if you're not carrying New York ID and can be downright cantankerous if you're carrying no ID at all. I know of one skitcher who was carted off to the precinct house for carrying no ID, the idea being that he would then call someone up who would come down to the station and identify him. The desk sergeant eventually cut him loose anyway, but it was certainly a less than pleasant experience.
Finally, if you do get pink-slipped (i.e., busted) for some form of illegal skating, take heed that if your infraction requires a court date, then you will probably have to pay "court costs" of about $50 in addition to whatever fine is mandated.