10/24/2012Indiana: Driving For Miles With Blinker On is Not a Crime
Drivers cannot be stopped for leaving their turn signal endlessly activated.
The familiar sight of a car in the left lane with its turn signal active for miles is no excuse for police to pull the driver over or issue a ticket, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday. The state courts had never before considered this particular question until motorist Rodney D. Killebrew II brought it up as a defense to his March 3, 2011 arrest.
On that day, Killebrew had been driving down Apperson Way in Kokomo when Police Officer Chad VanCamp noticed a white Cadillac with its blinker on. VanCamp testified that he believed a Cadillac driving in a straight line with a turn signal on was a sign its driver was impaired. VanCamp conducted a traffic stop and said he detected "an overwhelming amount of air fresheners" in Killebrew's Cadillac. Killebrew replied he had just cleaned the vehicle and thought it needed the freshening. Officer VanCamp ordered Killebrew out of the car and had a drug dog conduct a search. The dog found two small bags of marijuana in the center console.
The three-judge panel took up the question of whether this traffic stop violated the Fourth Amendment. The judges looked to the text of the applicable statute to determine whether Officer VanCamp had reason to believe he witnessed a crime being committed when he saw the turn signal blinking.
"A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last two hundred feet traveled by a vehicle before turning or changing lanes," Indiana Code Section 9-21-8-25 and 26 states. "A person may not stop or suddenly decrease the speed of a vehicle without first giving an appropriate signal to a person who drives a vehicle immediately to the rear when there is opportunity to give a signal."
The court determined these provisions only dealt with failure to use a signal, not overuse of a signal.
"We have not found any other statutory language expressly prohibiting Killebrew's use of his turn signal, and the state has not provided us with any," Judge Patricia A. Riley wrote for the court. "Accordingly, we conclude that the legislature did not intend the use of a turn signal through an intersection to be a traffic violation."
The judges were likewise unimpressed with the prosecutors' attempt to claim VanCamp thought Killebrew was impaired after the officer followed the Cadillac for less than a block. At trial, VanCamp admitted it was "common" for old people to drive with their turn signal on.
"If we were to hold that an action equally common among unimpaired drivers could justify a traffic stop, that ruling would be ripe for abuse and would not strike a reasonable balance between the government's legitimate interest in traffic safety and an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy," Judge Riley concluded. "Accordingly, we hold that while driving through an intersection with an activated turn signal might be a legitimate factor in creating a reasonable suspicion that a driver is impaired, such use of a turn signal alone is not sufficient."
The court reversed Killebrew's misdemeanor conviction, which carried a suspended jail sentence. A copy of the ruling is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.