DerryNews.com, Derry, New Hampshire

April 11, 2012

The use of turn signals is required by law

About The Law
Andrew Myers

Editor's note: Wonder whether you should sue your neighbors over their bratty kids and barking dogs? Worried about fighting a traffic ticket in court? Think your brother cheated you out of your father's estate? Send your legal questions to andrew@attorney-myers.com, then watch this column for an answer.

Yes, turn signals are required under the law. With degenerating driving habits, this issue actually went all the way up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, which reviewed the rules of the road embedded in state statutes.

A motor vehicle operator in Dover was in one of those left-turn-only lanes, stopped at a red light. When the light turned green and a turn was made without a turn signal, police made a stop, found the driver impaired and placed her under arrest for drunken driving.

The issue is whether the police had reasonable suspicion to support stopping the vehicle and making further inquiry. The driver argued that she was not required to use a turn signal because she was in a left-hand-only turn lane, where there was already present a traffic control device warning motorists in the left turn only lane, and where it is physically impossible to take a right turn or to proceed straight, due to road configurations.

But the court found the language of RSA 265:45 very clear, stating no person shall turn any vehicle "without giving an appropriate signal." The law requires a turn signal 100 feet prior to the turn. The defendant also argued that there were no other vehicles around, so no turn signal was required. That argument failed.

All police need to support a vehicle stop is an articulable suspicion, and the court found failure to use a turn signal was enough. The case is State of New Hampshire v. Smith, decided March 23, 2012.

If that case seems obvious, another recent ruling at least seems somewhat troubling. The court was taken back to the ice storm of 2008, when Southern New Hampshire was coated with a glaze of ice and paralyzed for days with power outages. A motorist driving through the intersection of Routes 28 and 111, where the traffic signals were inoperable, was seriously injured in a collision.

The Supreme Court upheld dismissal of the man's lawsuit against the town of Windham, essentially pointing out the roadways are state highways. The town, having called the light failure in to the state, was off the hook.

The lawsuit against the state was dismissed on different grounds. "Discretionary function immunity" relieves the state and its agencies from liability where conduct involves the exercise or performance of a discretionary executive or planning function.

Decision-makers are immunized against liability where there is a "high degree of discretion and judgment" involved in weighing alternatives and making choices with respect to public policy.

So, the court agreed with the state's position that deciding how best to allocate limited state resources in response to widespread power outages caused by a severe ice storm is a discretionary function.

My disappointment was that the case never used words like "pandemonium" or "common sense." That's why justices write decisions and I write a local newspaper column. The case is Ford v. NH DOT, decided Feb. 24, 2012.

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Andrew Myers of Derry has law offices in Derry and North Andover. He is a member of the American Association for Justice and the New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. Send questions to andrew@attorney-myers.com.