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Tennessee Supreme Court Upholds Tickets for Dawdlers
Tennessee Supreme Court ruling upholds tickets for drivers moving so slowly that traffic backs up.

Chief Justice Barker
Driving through Tennessee so slowly that traffic begins to back up is now a ticketable offense. The state's supreme court on Monday issued a unanimous ruling making it clear that dawdling on the road can be considered a crime.

The case began when Chattanooga Police Officer Joseph Shaw noticed a slow-moving Nissan Altima on Market Street at about 1am on May 11, 2005. Shaw estimated the Altima driver was driving at 25 MPH on the four-lane road, even though the speed limit was 35 and the rest of the traffic on the road was flowing smoothly at 50 MPH. This difference in speed caused a backup, according to Officer Shaw.

"When (approaching automobiles) would come up behind us they would have to brake fairly quickly and change lanes in order to pass," Shaw testified. "And there was moderate traffic even for that time of night on that road."

Shaw followed the Altima for about fifteen blocks before deciding to pull over the driver, Richard Adam Hannah. Hannah had no license and showed some signs of intoxication. A later search discovered a small amount of cocaine and marijuana in the car, resulting in the arrest of Hannah and his passengers. Shaw's basis for the stop was a law against impeding the flow of traffic.

"No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or compliance with law," Tennessee Code section 55-8-154 states.

A trial court decided this law did not apply to the situation at hand and threw out the evidence against Hannah and his passengers. The trial court, with the support of appellate courts, interpreted the word "impede" in the statute as coming to a stop on the road and blocking other drivers from continuing on their way. The supreme court did not buy this interpretation.

"Had the legislature intended for a violation to occur only when an automobile was completely stopped in the roadway or caused other automobiles to stop, we presume it would have said so," Chief Justice William M. Barker wrote. "Accordingly, we agree with the state that the trial court's interpretation that a driver must cause other automobiles to come to a stop and wait for an unreasonable amount of time is too restrictive and would essentially emasculate the import of the statute."

The high court found that drivers may travel slowly, but only if that slowness does not cause a backup for other motorists or violate a posted minimum speed. The court also added in a footnote that driving at the speed limit is "normal and reasonable" even when everybody else on the road is traveling much more quickly.

A full copy of the decision is available in a 95k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Tennessee v. Hannah, et al. (Supreme Court of Tennessee, 6/23/2008)

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