Arizona Drug Law: I Bet You Never Knew How Important Your Blinker Was

When being stopped by an officer there are many things that go through a driver’s head. “Was I speeding?” “Is there a taillight out?” “Did I swerve?” On the other hand, most people don’t usually think “did I use my blinker appropriately.” However, the issue of the appropriate use of a blinker, was one of the primary questions decided by the recent Arizona Court of Appeals Case: Arizona v. Douglas Dean Starr.
In the Starr case, a DPS officer was driving along the highway behind Starr. The officer reported that he observed Starr following the car behind him too closely, and also changing lanes multiple times. Also the officer says he observed Starr, without using a turn signal, change lanes and pass a large commercial truck that was merging in the same lane, onto the highway. The officer pulled Starr over. During the stop, the officer found marijuana and other drug paraphernalia, resulting in confiscating the property, and multiple drug possession charges.
Starr challenged the traffic stop as being unconstitutional. That is, his attorneys argued there was not a constitutionally valid reason to pull his car over. If this were the case, then the drug charges would be dismissed. Their specific argument was that the wording of the statute that regulated the use of a turn signal, only mandates a driver use a blinker, when a driver makes a full 90 degree turn. They asserted the law does  not apply to situations when a driver  merely change lanes. This argument required the court to look at the statute and interpret the law’s true meaning.
The interpretation of this particular statute had not yet been analyzed by the Arizona courts until this case.  In its decision, the court looked to similar rulings in other states. Many other jurisdictions held that a turn signal is required when any type of movement of one car would affect the course of another car. For example, if there was no car in sight for miles, a person would not need to use a blinker.  The reason being, there is no chance of another car, having to change their pattern of driving due to the lack of blinker use.  Put another way, there are no safety reason requiring notice of a lane change. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that because the wording of the Arizona statute specifies the necessity for safety, and that there were other cars on the road when Starr changed lanes, the use of a blinker was required. Thus, the conviction was upheld.
Consequently, to be successful on this type of motion you need both: (1) a factual scenario with light or no traffic; and (2) you must argue the safety of the lane change (i.e no other cars needed to brake; no other cars took evasive action; traffic was not disrupted) .
If you have question about a specific legal issue please contact the Koplow Law Firm.
Lawrence Koplow

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