On 23rd January 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a travel ban on New York City roads as a safety measure ahead of heavy snow. James O'Neill, NYPD Chief of Department, stated that people violating this ban would be arrested.

What law(s) allow this ban to be imposed? Is there anywhere online I can read more about it, or view the exact wording? I'm interested in understanding the circumstances under which such a travel ban can be imposed, and what measures are in place to prevent the abuse or overuse of such bans. I'm also interested in understanding any arguments that may have been made about how the health/safety benefits of this ban outweigh the costs of restricting individual freedoms.

I've looked around online to no avail - Wikipedia's page on Freedom of movement under United States law doesn't mention it, and I can find information on bills to exempt certain parties from the legislation, but this doesn't seem to lead me to the law itself.


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It looks to me like this is authorized under New York State's Executive Law Section 24. The text is long, but I think it addresses most of the points in your question.

The law allows the chief executive of a local government (e.g. mayor of a city) to declare a local state of emergency "in the event of a disaster, rioting, catastrophe, or similar public emergency". Under such a state of emergency, the executive can promulgate local emergency orders, that can include provisions like travel bans, curfews, mandatory evacuation, etc. Violating such an order is a Class B misdemeanor (see paragraph 5).

I didn't see any explicit requirement for the executive to weigh safety benefits against restriction of personal liberties. The executive just has to "find" (i.e. decide) that a disaster exists and imperils public safety.

However, there are some safeguards. The local state of emergency is limited to 30 days (some orders can be extended for an additional 30 days); see paragraph 1. And the state legislature has the authority to terminate the state of emergency by a concurrent resolution (paragraph 8).

Further good reading is a primer (PDF) written by the legal counsel of New York's Office of Emergency Management, giving a guide in layman's language for local chief executives on how to handle state of emergency declarations.

I'm slightly puzzled as to why, in this case, the order was given by the governor, when it looks from the law like it should be the mayor's role to do so. It could be that the mayor took the appropriate legal action and just let the governor make the public announcement. Also, Executive Law Article 2-B (Sections 20-29) have many other provisions regarding emergencies. Section 28 gives the governor the power to declare a "disaster emergency", though it's not clear from that section whether this includes the power to issue similar emergency orders.

  • The linked article says that the Port Authority banned travel on bridges, perhaps that power falls under State jurisdiction since the PA is a (two) state run organization rather than local? Jan 25, 2016 at 1:55
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    @Namfuak: Maybe. But closing its bridges and tunnels when required by circumstances is presumably something that the Port Authority is normally able to do as a part of its day-to-day operations. I wouldn't think it would require an emergency declaration at all; otherwise you'd need one every time there was a traffic accident or maintenance work. Closing particular roadways, even important ones, doesn't really seem to be on the same level as a blanket ban on travel or the other emergency powers described in Section 24. Jan 25, 2016 at 3:13
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    I'm not sure what the source article is quoting exactly, but it only says Cuomo announced the bridge closings, not the travel ban. I can't seem to find a source that states who announced the general travel ban, only tweets from the NYPD after the fact, so perhaps it was announced by the city and Cuomo announced bridge closures in tandem. Jan 25, 2016 at 14:49
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    "the state legislature has the authority to terminate the state of emergency by a concurrent resolution" -- I see this could be a safeguard for for states of emergency in general but I'm not sure how easy it would be to do in practice, in cases where there's a complete travel ban in place and legislators can be arrested en route. Of course if the executive is willing to arrest the legislature then it probably doesn't matter whether or not the grounds to do so are really legal or not: you've already lost. Jan 25, 2016 at 18:02

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