Motorcycle Passenger Signals Turn with Hand Signal; Officers Don’t See the Hand Signal

An Ohio State Highway Patrol Trooper saw a motorcycle turn left into a parking lot without using a turn signal. The troopers initiated a traffic stop.

The officer stopped the motorcycle and found out that the driver had removed the turn signals to install saddlebags and had not replaced them. (This is in itself a violation)

The passenger said she used a hand signal to indicate the approaching turn which the troopers did not see.

Subsequently, the driver was charged with OVI and operating a vehicle without turn signal devices in violation of R.C. 4513.261.

Constitution Requires That an Officer Have Probable Cause to Believe a Traffic Violation Has Occurred – Even if the Driver is Ultimately Found Not Guilty of that Traffic Offense

As a general matter, the decision to stop an automobile is reasonable where the police have probable cause to believe that a traffic violation has occurred.

Probable cause can exist even if the officer incorrectly determines that a traffic violation has occurred or if the officer misunderstands the law that the driver is allegedly violating.

The proper focus is not on whether a defendant could have been stopped because a traffic violation had in fact occurred, but on whether the officer had probable cause to believe an offense had occurred.  The fact that a defendant could not ultimately be convicted of failure to obey a traffic signal is not determinative of whether an officer acted reasonably in stopping him for that offense.

Ohio’s Turn Signal Law

R.C. 4511.39(A) governs use of turn signals in Ohio.  It says:

“No person shall turn a vehicle * * * or move right or left upon a highway unless and until such person has exercised due care to ascertain that the movement can be made with reasonable safety nor without giving an appropriate signal in the manner hereinafter provided.

When required, a signal of intention to turn or move right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last one hundred feet traveled by the vehicle or trackless trolley before turning***.

Any stop or turn signal required by this section shall be given either by means of the hand and arm, or by signal lights that clearly indicate to both approaching and following traffic intention to turn or move right or left, except that any motor vehicle in use on a highway shall be equipped with, and the required signal shall be given by, signal lights when [the vehicle has certain dimensions] * * * .” 

Hand Signal Indicating Turn Must Be Given By Motorcycle Driver – Not Just the Passenger 

Here, the troopers said they didn’t see a hand signal and didn’t know if the motorcycle driver had used a hand signal before turning.  

Rather, the troopers just said they saw a motorcycle turn without giving a “mechanical turn signal.”  Based on this, the court said, the officers had probable cause to believe a traffic violation had occurred.

What’s more, R.C. 4511.39(A) requires a driver or a person attempting to make a turn to give the appropriate signal, not a passenger.

Thus, the motion to suppress was denied and the stop upheld. 

If you are facing a turn signal citation or OVI on a motorcycle, talk to one of our Columbus traffic attorneys about your options. 

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