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Rules of the Road: Turn Signals

Turn signals at intersections
Turn Signals – Rules of the Road

Yes, turn signals are required under the law.  With degenerating driving habits this issue actually went all the way up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.  Justices reviewed the law and what one driver said about ‘turn only’ lanes.

A motor vehicle operator in Dover drove into  one of those left-turn-only lanes  and stopped at a red light.  The light turned green and the driver turned without a turn signal.  So, police stopped the car, found the driver impaired and placed her under arrest for drunk driving.

First of all, police need what  the law calls “reasonable suspicion” in order to support a valid stop, underlying further inquiry.  The driver argued that she was not required to use a turn signal because she was in a left-hand-only turn lane.  She said there was a clear traffic control device warning motorists in the left turn only lane.  Further, drivers face physical impossibility to take a right turn or to proceed straight due to road configurations.

Do you need turn signals in a “turn only” lane?

But the court found the law very clear.  State statute, RSA 265:45, warns that no person shall turn any vehicle “without giving an appropriate signal”.  The law requires a turn signal 100 feet prior to the turn.  The defendant also argued that there were no other vehicles around, so no turn signal was required.  That argument failed.

To legally stop a vehicle police need what the law calls an articulable suspicion.  The court found failure to use turn signals was enough.  In the case of State of New Hampshire v. Smith, the court held turn signals necessary even in a ‘turn only’ lane.  The case dates back to March 23, 2012. But no contrary interpretation exists.

If that case seems obvious, another recent ruling at least seems somewhat troubling.  The case goes back to a 2008 ice storm when southern New Hampshire was coated with a glaze of ice.  Power outages continued for days and even weeks.  A motorist driving through the intersection of Routes 28 and 111 where the traffic signals were inoperable was seriously injured in a collision.

The Supreme Court upheld dismissal of the man’s suit against the Town of Windham, essentially pointing out the roadways are state highways.  The town, having called the light failure in to the state, was off the hook.

Suits against the government:  good luck

The suit against the state was dismissed on different grounds.  ‘Discretionary function immunity’ relieves the state and its agencies from liability where conduct involves the exercise or performance of a discretionary executive or planning function.  Decision makers are immunized against liability where there is a ‘high degree of discretion and judgment’ involved in weighing alternatives and making choices with respect to public policy.

So the court agreed with the state’s position. Justices held that deciding how best to allocate limited state resources in response to widespread power outages falls under the category of a discretionary function.

The case never used words like ‘pandemonium’ or ‘common sense’.  They came to my mind while reading the case.  At the same time, that’s why justices write decisions and I write blogs and local newspaper columns.  Ford v. NH DOT confirmed the challenges in suing the state.  The court posted the decision on   February 24, 2012.

Based on a column originally appearing in the Derry News, “About the Law” column, © 2012 Eagle Tribune Corp.

2 thoughts on “Rules of the Road: Turn Signals”

  1. Thank you. I found this article helpful. I recently was stopped for not using my turn signal in a right turn only lane. I was given a warning, but was very surprised that the law requires this. The rsa quoted above is to broad in my opinion, but now that I know about it I can act accordingly.

    I’ll still feel like an ass using my signal to tell the world what they already know.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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