11/8/2017New Jersey: No Getting Around Crawling Vehicles
Appellate ruling in New Jersey says motorists may never cross double yellow lines, even to get around a car crawling well below the speed limit.
When courts interpret traffic laws, it is almost always in the context of a drug case or other serious felony. The legal costs involved at the appellate level make it generally not worth the risk with low-stakes cases such speeding or illegal passing. Last week, New Jersey's second highest court had the chance to decide a case based on its interpretation of the passing statute, without any other considerations involved. Motorist Albert J. Fields Jr faced no other consequences than the $93 that the Superior Court, Appellate Division -- the equivalent of a court of appeals in other states -- ultimately ordered Fields to pay for the crime of driving around a car traveling far below the speed limit.
The incident took place on July 10, 2015, as Fields was traveling along North Broadway in Pennsville Township. Ahead of him on the road, a car was crawling well below the legal limit, creating a backup. So he moved left over the double yellow lines and safely passed the obstruction. Pennsville Police Department patrolman James Endres happened to be a few cars behind Fields and decided to issue him a ticket.
Whether Fields was guilty or innocent depended on the interpretation of the state law on passing, NJSA 39:4-86.
"Except when otherwise directed by a duly constituted traffic or police officer or when the lane in which he is operating is obstructed and impassable, the driver of a vehicle shall not cross an appropriately marked 'No Passing' line in a 'No Passing' zone," the law states.
Fields argued that there was no traffic in the opposing direction and that the dawdling vehicle was traveling so slow that it constituted an obstruction under the law, making it lawful to pass. The two-judge appellate panel disagreed, pointing out that the statue says "obstructed and impassable."
"Thus, the plain language of the statute permits passing in a no passing zone only where the road is both obstructed and impassable," the appellate division wrote in its ruling. "The legislative intent is clear from the statute and the trial judge did not add language to it, as defendant claims... Defendant's guilt was proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and we are satisfied the adequate, substantial, and credible evidence in the record supports the trial judge's conclusion defendant was guilty of violating NJSA 39:4-86."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 65k PDF file at the source link below.