16 Jul 2020
While you might think that it’s just common sense to use your turn signals when making a turn or lane change, up until recently, there has been no specific legal case that made it a requirement to do so. A recent decision made by the Washington State Supreme Court, however, now says that all drivers in the state are legally required to make use of their turn signals when turning or changing lanes.
The Seattle Times reports that this unanimous decision by the high court reverses a Court of Appeals ruling that said that the use of turn signals is only required when public safety is affected.
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The case arose from an incident that happened in Kennewick, Washington, where driver, Joseph Brown, used his turn signal to enter a left-turn lane at an intersection but didn’t keep the signal on when in the left turn lane or when making the turn. Officers from the Washington State Patrol had observed this and pulled Brown over.
During the traffic stop, State Troopers also determined that Brown had been driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood-alcohol level of .26 percent – more than three times the legal limit.
In a Benton County, Washington Court, Brown’s case was dismissed after the Judge contended that Brown was not required to keep his turn signal engaged once in the designated left-turn lane, therefore the State Troopers had no reason to stop him. The case went to before the Superior Court and a Court of appeals with differing opinions before the State then took it to the Supreme Court to render a final decision on the matter.
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According to the Legal Code of Washington State, RCW 46.61.305, drivers have to use their turn signals continuously to turn or move left or right when required from at least 100 feet before turning or moving in that direction. Attorneys for Brown argued that the words “when required” suggests that there must be some occasions where it would not be required if no other direction is possible.
Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the Court’s decision :
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“Blind corners and unprotected left turns with oncoming traffic abound; pedestrians may or may not cross streets depending on the presence of a car’s turn signal; and, failing to signal may lead other drivers to think it safe to change lanes or turn themselves. Leaving the decision to use a signal to the perception of individual driver undermines the ultimate purpose of traffic laws: preventing accidents and encouraging highway safety.”