Failing to Signal a Lane Change Can Prove Costly

January 10th, 2019 by Tad Nelson in Traffic Offenses

When the police stop you for a traffic violation, that can often lead to more than just a ticket. For example, if during the stop the officer finds evidence of drunk driving, you can be arrested for DWI. And as long as the initial stop was tied to a legitimate traffic violation, the courts will give the officer the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the legality of the arrest.

Officer Testimony, Dashboard Camera Footage Undercuts Driver’s Defense in Court

Here is a recent case in point from San Antonio. The defendant was driving his car on a two-way street. He approached a one-way street with three lanes. According to video footage taken by a nearby police officer’s dashboard camera, the defendant “cut diagonally across the intersection,” crossing over a broken-white line that separated the left and middle lanes of the one-way street. And as the defendant traveled down the one-way street, his tires “crossed the middle lane then the broken white line” separating the middle and right lanes. Eventually, the defendant was in the right lane as he approached the red light at the next intersection, although the left-turn signal from his original turn onto the one-way street remained on.

At this point, the police officer initiated a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer uncovered evidence of DWI and illegal drug possession. The officer then arrested the defendant, who was charged with both crimes.

In court, the defendant moved to suppress any evidence of criminal activity gathered during the traffic stop. The defendant maintained the officer did not have a reasonable basis to initiate the stop in the first place. Both the trial court and later the Court of Appeals disagreed.

As the appeals court explained, under Texas law a driver who turns left from a two-way road onto a one-way road, like the defendant in this case, must “approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to a vehicle moving in the direction of the vehicle.” Then, once the driver enters the intersection, he must turn left, “approach the intersection in the extreme left-hand lane lawfully available to a vehicle moving in the direction of the vehicle.” The driver must subsequently use a turn signal to indicate any lane change.

The defendant argued it was permissible for him to “traverse the broken lines between the lanes on his path to his destination lane.” In other words, when making the left turn onto the one-way street, he was allowed to cross the broken lines separating the lanes without flashing a new turn signal. In contrast, the police officer said the defendant “turned into the middle lane and then changed lanes without signaling.” The trial court agreed with the officer’s interpretation of events, which was supported by the camera footage. The Court of Appeals declined to second-guess the trial judge’s decision.

Speak with a Houston Traffic Violations Attorney Today

Failing to signal a lane change may not seem like a big deal at first. But anytime a police officer stops you for a traffic violation, it can lead to more legal problems than you might think. This is why you need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense lawyer, even if you are just looking to contest a traffic ticket. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today if you need advice or assistance.

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