5/6/2009West Virginia Supreme Court: Turn Signal Optional On Empty Road
West Virginia Supreme Court rules turn signal is unnecessary if nobody is around to see it.
Police in West Virginia may no longer issue tickets to motorists for failure to signal without also showing another vehicle may have been affected by the maneuver, according to a ruling issued Monday by the state supreme court. Justices took up the issue in the context of a June 25, 2006 traffic stop in which West Virginia State Trooper C.T. Kessel pulled over Chad R. Clower on US 50 in the city of Romney.
According to Kessel, the road was deserted that night when he saw Clower's car two full city blocks ahead. After Clower made a right-hand turn without signaling, Kessel pounced. At the time, Clower was neither speeding nor weaving and Kessel had noted nothing unusual about the man's driving beyond the lack of a signal. In the course of the stop, however, Kessel noticed that Clower's eyes were "glassy" and he immediately suspected the man had been driving under the influence of alcohol.
Clower, in fact, has a glass eye. But because he blew .18 on a breathalyzer, Clower was charged with DUI and the state Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended his license. Clower appealed and the high court limited itself to considering only the question of whether Kessel was justified in initiating the traffic stop that night. The DMV argued that the law is the law and no exception is made in the turn signal statute for turns made on deserted roads.
"Any stop or turn signal when required herein shall be given either by means of the hand and arm or by a signal lamp or lamps or mechanical signal device," the code under which Clower was charged, 17C-8-9, states.
Clower countered that the signal law must be read within the context of another provision covering turns which does allow for exceptions.
"No person shall so turn any vehicle without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided in the event any other traffic may be affected by such movement," West Virginia Code 17C-8-8(a) states.
The supreme court agreed that this provision must be read in combination with the signal statute.
"It is clear that the legislature sought to require a motorist to warn others of the motorist's intent to make a turn," Justice Menis E. Ketchum wrote for the court. "It is equally clear that the legislature understood that in some situations a turn signal would serve no purpose and the legislature specifically defined such a situation as being when 'no other traffic may be affected by the movement.' A clear example this latter situation is where a driver is on an isolated country road, with no other cars or pedestrians in sight, and the driver turns at an intersection without using a turn signal. A driver in such an example clearly would not have violated W.Va. Code, 17C-8-9 as there was no other person who could have benefited from a turn signal."
Since the trooper had been at least a block away by the time that the turn was completed, the court found that there was no way that the trooper could have been affected either by the turn itself or the lack of a signal. For that reason, the court found no crime had been committed and the trooper had no business pulling over Clower.
A copy of the decision is available in a 60k PDF file at the source link below.