While on patrol, police officers are on the look out for a variety of traffic violations that can lead to a traffic stop. Forgetting to use a turn signal, running a red light, and speeding are some of the most frequent traffic violations that lead to traffic stops and tickets. But what about driving too slow? The Ohio Court of Appeals recently held that simply driving below the speed limit, without impeding traffic or causing a safety risk, is not enough to justify a traffic stop.
SLOW SPEED VIOLATIONS
In Ohio, slow speed violations usually arise when drivers create a line of cars behind them, and are not traveling in the right-hand lane of travel to allow for cars to pass on the left. Sections 4511.22 and 4511.25 cover violations related to slow speed and require drivers to:
- Travel in the right-hand lanes to allow for passing on the right
- Not block the flow of traffic
- Not create a risk of safety by traveling below the posted speed limit
In the Gray case, the officer observed the Defendant traveling 65 mph in a 70 mph zone. The Defendant was traveling in the center lane of the three-lane high way and video evidence showed there was room for other cars to safely pass in the left-hand lane.
The Defendant did not travel in the right-hand lane, but the Court held that he traveled at a consistent speed that was comparable to the traffic around him, and did not create a safety risk or block the flow of traffic.
OTHER EVIDENCE OF CRIMINAL OR TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS
The State argued that the Defendant committed a slow speed violation and also showed signs he was committing other criminal acts. In her testimony, the officer stated she observed the Defendant gripping the steering wheel tightly and only looking straight ahead while driving. Her conclusion was that the Defendant was committing some type of criminal act based on these observations.
The Court rejected the officer’s testimony as evidence of criminal activity by stating that proper driving etiquette cannot be used to further justify a traffic stop. State v. Gray, 2019-Ohio-2662 citing State v. Lu, 2018-Ohio-5009
OFFICER’S MISTAKE OF LAW FOR SLOW SPEED VIOLATIONS
The State also argued that the officer’s stop of the Defendant was valid because even if the Defendant did not actually violate sections 4511.22 or 4511.25, the stop was still valid because a reasonable officer would have concluded the Defendant committed a slow speed violation.
The Court of Appeals held that Ohio law was well established before the officer stopped the Defendant and it should be well known that a stop based solely on slow speed is generally not justified. There was no other evidence of criminal activity and the officer had no reasonable justification to stop the Defendant. State v. Huth, 133 Ohio App.3d 261
Slow speed violations are often used by officers to expand traffic stops to investigate for OVIs or DUIs. It is important to contact an attorney who is knowledgeable about all possible defenses available to you, including whether the officer potentially lacked a valid reason to pull you over and investigate you for other criminal and traffic violations. If you have questions about your Columbus criminal or OVI related charges, talk to our defense attorneys at 614-361-2804.