New York doesn't generally enact statewide curfews. However, in times of emergency, the governor may put one in place, as occurred during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. Some cities and towns in New York have their own curfews in place for minors, and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) also places restrictions on young drivers.
How a Curfew Works
A curfew bans or limits an individual's right to be in public areas at certain times. It may target businesses by forcing them to cease operations at a specific time. Juveniles can also have limits placed upon them as to when they can be out without adult supervision.
Both municipal and state governments can legally restrict movements because it is their responsibility to safeguard public health. Mandatory curfews usually apply only to public property or frequenting nonessential businesses. Residents under a mandatory curfew can still go outdoors to enjoy their yards, porches or decks.
Defining Emergency Curfews
Emergency curfews are temporarily put in place by local, state or federal governments when a crisis occurs. These can be in response to:
- Natural disasters, including fires, earthquakes or hurricanes.
- Civil disturbances, such as protests, riots or terrorist attacks.
- Public health emergencies, such as a pandemic.
Those who break emergency curfew laws may face criminal charges and penalties, including fines, jail time or probation. During an emergency curfew, healthcare workers are typically granted exemptions, as are businesses deemed essential services, such as hospitals, law enforcement and fire services. For everyone else, emergency curfews may prohibit certain actions in a specific location at a particular time, including:
- Walking, sitting, standing or biking.
- Parking or driving a motor vehicle.
- Conducting nonessential business operation.
Business Curfew Laws
The objective of business curfews is to safeguard public health and safety. Business curfews usually occur in more populated areas where people convene in greater numbers or in high-crime areas. Bars, restaurants and some retail businesses are targets for closure. However, grocery stores and pharmacies are exempt, as the state deems them essential businesses.
Those who violate business curfews can receive severe penalties and may be shutdown altogether. For example, a bar called Tinhorn Flats was closed down by the Burbank City Council in California for repeatedly violating COVID-19 lock-down rules. The severity of penalties in a location depends on what agency enforces a curfew and how egregious the violations are.
Juvenile Curfews in New York
Towns, cities or states typically enact juvenile curfews that prohibit young individuals under 18 from being in public places when unaccompanied by an adult. These laws are usually in place between 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. In some instances, juveniles cannot frequent businesses, like malls, after a particular time. The goals of juvenile curfew laws are not only public safety, but crime prevention and social order. A minor in violation of a curfew can receive a small fine that their parents would be responsible for paying or they may have to perform community service.
New York State does not have a juvenile curfew, nor does New York City. Some smaller municipalities in the state do have them in place, however. For example:
- Batavia: Juveniles under 16, Sunday through Thursday 10:00 p.m. to sunrise; Friday and Saturday 11:00 p.m. to sunrise.
- Buffalo: Juveniles under 16, Sunday through Thursday 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m.
- Elmira: Juveniles under 17 every day 11:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m.
- Middletown: Juveniles under 17 every day 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
- Saratoga Springs: Juveniles under 18 every day 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.
- Schenectady: Juveniles under 16 Sunday through Thursday 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 12:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.
- Troy: Juveniles under 18 Sunday through Thursday 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.; Friday and Saturday 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
- Watertown: Juveniles under 16 every day 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.
- Yonkers: Juveniles under 12 Halloween 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.; juveniles under 14 Halloween 10:30 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.; Juveniles under 17 Halloween 11:00 p.m.to 6:00 a.m.
DMV Curfew Hours for Learner's Permit Holders
The New York State DMV allows young drivers to hold a learner's permit for the operation of a motor vehicle while supervised by a driver who is at least 21 with a full license and positioned in the front seat. The state allows them to drive between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. while supervised by a guardian, parent or driving instructor.
This law does not apply in some municipalities. For example, in New York City, the young driver can drive while supervised by a parent, guardian or driving instructor, but can do so only between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.; the motor vehicle must also have controls for both the supervisor and driver. Nassau and Suffolk counties allow the permit holder to drive from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. while supervised by a parent, guardian, driving instructor or someone authorized by the parent, but they must be 21 or older and have a license.
DMV Curfews for Junior Driver's License Holders
After a 16-year-old has a permit for six months, they can get a junior driver's license, which allows them to drive from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. with some exceptions:
- They may drive to work or school after hours, but must have valid documentation to do so.
- They can drive after hours with guardian or parent supervision.
- Junior licensees cannot drive in New York City.
- Nassau and Suffolk counties allow junior licensees to drive to school and educational programs or work between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. or when supervised by a parent, guardian or driving instructor.
Junior license holders cannot drive with more than one nonfamily member under 21 in the vehicle unless supervised by a parent, guardian or driving instructor. Holding junior driver's licenses and permits requires consent from a parent. If they withdraw that consent, license revocation occurs.
Emergency Curfews During COVID-19
In March 2020, New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a statewide emergency and subsequent curfew due to the COVID-19 pandemic and required all nonessential businesses to close their doors. This executive order also prohibited nonessential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason. On May 15, 2020, he lifted some restrictions for specific industries in parts of upstate New York and continued to do so little by little as COVID cases declined over several months.
While some businesses got back to normal, curfews and social distancing rules stayed in place for bars and restaurants, as well as event venues and public transportation, particularly in New York City, where COVID cases soared. However, by June 2021, Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted the majority of the state's restrictions because 70 percent of New Yorkers had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at that time.
- NOLO/Driving Laws: New York’s Teen Driver’s License and Insurance Requirements
- Husch Blackwell: New York: State-by-State COVID-19 Guidance
- NYS Governor's Office: Governor Cuomo Announces COVID-19 Restrictions Lifted as 70% of Adult New Yorkers Have Received First Dose of COVID-19 Vaccine
- Youth Rights: Curfew Laws by State
- KTLA: Burbank’s Tinhorn Flats Vows to Stay Open After City Council Votes to Revoke Restaurant Permit
- Laws 101: Are Curfews Legal? Legal Consequences of Breaking Curfew
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.