CHARLESTON – The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled that turn signals are only required when other traffic would be affected.
The unanimous ruling, filed Monday, sprouts for a Hampshire County case in which a man successfully appealed a state Division of Motor Vehicle's determination to revoke his driver's license.
The man, Chad Clower, argued that since the State Police trooper that stopped him in Romney was two blocks behind him, state law did not require him to use his turn signal when he made a right hand turn.
The trooper had used this as the reason to initiate a traffic stop, which resulted in Clower's arrest for drunk driving on June 25, 2006.
Clower's license was revoked by former DMV Commissioner Joseph Cicchirillo upon learning of the DUI arrest. Clower requested an administrative hearing on the matter during which a hearing examiner upheld the revocation.
Clower then appealed that decision to the Hampshire Circuit Court, which on Nov. 15, 2007, reversed the revocation stating that the state trooper did not have "requisite reasonable suspicion" to stop Clower's vehicle because he hadn't broken the law by not using his turn signal.
Cicchirillo appealed the Hampshire decision.
Justice Menis Ketchum, in delivering the opinion, noted that the state trooper, C.T. Kessel, in testimony cited a portion of state code that requires turn signals as his reason for stopping Clower.
Clower argued that another section of the same article of code states that a turn signal is only required when "other traffic may be affected by (the turn)." The hearing examiner in the DMV hearing rejected Clower's argument, saying that the code he cited does not create an exception to the code cited by Kessel, which seems to make turn signals mandatory for all turns.
The circuit court ruled that, under the circumstances, Clower was not required to use his turn signal under either section of the code.
Ketchum notes that the code cited by Kessel says that "any stop or turn signal when required herein shall be given either by means of the hand and arm or by a signal lamp or lamps or mechanical signal device."
Ketchum says that the phrase "when required herein" is not explained or defined in any part of that section of the code.
However, the part of code cited by Clower is specific in requiring a turn signal "in the event any other traffic may be affected by such movement."
"With regard to those portions of (the article of code) that require or reference the use of a turn signal, it is clear that the Legislature sought to require a motorist to warn others of the motorist's intent to make a turn," Ketchum wrote. "It is equally clear that the Legislature understood that in some situations a turn signal would serve no purpose and the Legislature specifically defined such a situation …"
Based on that, and a review of Kessel's testimony about his distance from Clower on U.S. 50, the Supreme Court agreed with the Hampshire court that Kessel had no "requisite reasonable suspicion" to stop Clower.
Supreme Court case number: 34329