Is Not Using a Turn Signal When No Other Vehicles are Present Against the Law?

Submitted by New Jersey DWI Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

If i do not use my turn signal late at night when no other vehicle is around, is that a traffic violation?

What should i do if I get pulled over in the middle of the night and charged with DWI when I am not speeding I have not committed any motor vehicle violations? In this case the defendant failed to use his turn signal at 2:30 AM on July 18, 2014. There was no dispute of that fact.

I get this question many times for individuals that are pulled over late at night. The courts have repeatedly rules the police must have probable cause to conduct a motor vehicle stop.  In other words, the police must have observed a violation of the motor vehicle code.  Late in the evening when we are all driving and attempt to change lanes or turn when there are no cars around we all fail to use our turn signal.  Is this a Motor Vehicle Code violation? 

The police often use this “failure to use turn signal” pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4–126 as a means to conduct and motor vehicle stop late at night when no other vehicle is present.  The code section reads, “no person shall turn at an intersection or has otherwise the fine without giving inappropriate signal… provided in the event any other traffic may be affected by such movement.

In other words, if there are no other vehicles around you, in front or behind you, you are not ‘affecting the other vehicle’s movement’.  Accordingly, you are not required by statute to use your turn signal. As a result, if there’s no other traffic around you and you do not use your turn signal you are not violating the motor vehicle code. If you are not violating the motor vehicle code you were not providing any police officer with probable cause that you committing a traffic violation which would enable the police to pull you over in the first place. This legal evaluation of the turn signal statute in New Jersey, in today’s case affirms the 1994 decision of State v. Williamson, 138 N.J. 302 (1994).

Remember, as I have written blogs before on this issue, at the motion to suppress procedural level, the state is not required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the violation of this motor vehicle statute. In order for the court to find “probable cause” the state merely has to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that there may have been a violation of the motor vehicle code to effectuate a motor vehicle stop. In this case the court relied upon the credible testimony of the officer and the simple fact provided by the officer own testimony that there were no other vehicles around when the defendant turned without first putting his blinker on. The only “other traffic involved”  was the arresting officer’s vehicle and that officer never testified that the failure of the defendant to put his turn signal on affected the police officer’s vehicle operation. As a result, the this court found the officer could not have possess any “reasonable suspicion” that the defendant committed a motor vehicle violation. As a result, the evidence obtained from the illegal stop must be suppressed. In this case the defendant was subsequently charged of the DWI arising out of evidence obtained after the officer approach the vehicle and conducted a DWI investigation.

Read the entire case here: State v. Zitter

Jeffrey S. Hark, Esq.
609-471-1959. Cell
856-354-0050 Office


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Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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