The door-to-door salesperson is an extinct species, but in days of yore could be seen prowling the streets in nearly the same number as the bison who once roamed the prairie.  Our parents and grandparents knew if one got a foot in the door, it could be trouble.

Valid grounds for making a stop is the police version of a foot in the door.  Almost all DWI arrests start with a reasonable suspicion a minor traffic violation has occurred.

A common violation is failure to signal within 100 ft. of a turn —VTL § 1163(b).  We all see it. We all do it (including many cops).  Some people don’t signal until they start their turn, or are at or just near the intersection / driveway.

My client pulled into a right turn only lane, stopping at the red light.  She signaled, waited for the light to change and was pulled over a few yards after her turn. The stop was based solely upon the failure to signal.  It led to her arrest for DWI.

This happened around midnight during what I call “DWI Prime Time” (10 p.m. to 4:00 a.m.).  The general rule during those hours is one can and will get stopped for any infraction.

I knew the corner.  It was on Lake Avenue by City Court.  My office is a few blocks away.  The block was a short one.  Armed with a tape measure, I went to the scene.  The distance from the white line at the light to the beginning of the lane at the last side street was a few inches more than 96 ft.  Since it was impossible to comply with the 100 ft. requirement, I challenged the stop.

The City Court Judge was a good sport and agreed to conduct part of the hearing on the street.  I, along with the Assistant DA, the Judge, the police office, and my client went to the scene.  I showed the Judge the shortness of the block, arguing it precluded a driver from obeying § 1163(b).

The statute’s intent is for drivers to notify others of their intended direction of travel.  Being in a right turn only lane and signaling after she stopped at the red light fulfilled this intent, I argued.  My client’s plan of travel was no mystery.

The Court upheld the stop, ruling she had a duty to signal as close as possible to the 100 ft. mark.  Since she didn’t signal as soon as she pulled into the right turn lane 96 feet sooner, the officer had cause to stop her.  The case was resolved with a non-criminal disposition lower than the DWI with a plea bargain. The signal ticket was dismissed, too. Had the Court ruled the stop invalid, all charges would have been dismissed.

The Judge remarked his decision was a close call.   After the hearing, the officer was even teased by his sergeant for making a stop on such weak grounds.  Weak, but still enough “reasonable suspicion” for a stop (I like the sergeant).

Any traffic violation is a “foot in the door” for the police. But unlike the traveling salesperson, the officer doesn’t need to convince you to buy anything.

No part of § 1163 prohibits signaling at distances exceeding 100 ft.   You won’t get a ticket for signaling at 150 ft.  If my client had, her stop would probably have been ruled invalid.  Be aware signaling “too soon” can lead to confusion on the part of other drivers depending on what turns are in the area.  Find the balance, but don’t wait past the 100 ft. mark.  A foot and a whole lot more might come thru you door if you do.

  • Posted by Helen Mastrion August 16, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Very interesting Kurt; food for thought...


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