By Magistrate Anne Walton Keller, Shaker Heights Municipal Court
On December 22, 2020 the Supreme Court of Ohio resolved a conflict amongst courts of appeal regarding traffic law by deciding State v. Turner, 2020-Ohio-6773. The 12th District Court of Appeals certified the issue in conflict as: “Does an officer have a reasonable suspicion to conduct a traffic stop of a motor vehicle for a marked lanes violation under R.C. 4511.33(A)(1) when the officer observes the tires driving on, but not across a marked lane line?”
Facts and Procedural History
A State Trooper stopped Turner’s car after he observed the right side tires of Turner’s car touch the right fog line. Turner was cited for a marked lanes violation. The Trooper then arrested Turner for OVI. Turner filed a Motion to Suppress on basis that the stop was unlawful. Although the trial court believed the Trooper’s testimony, it granted the Motion to Suppress because touching the lines did not establish a lawful basis for the stop.
The 12th District Court of Appeals reversed. The majority determined that the language of the statute clearly established that a marked lanes violation occurs if a driver is not fully inside or entirely within a single lane of traffic. After holding the Trooper’s suspicion reasonable it declined to address the State’s alternative argument that the stop was lawful because the Trooper made a reasonable mistake of law.
The 12th District certified its judgment as being in conflict with judgments from many other Districts. However, the Supreme Court noted that the only judgments that were in conflict were those which held stops unlawful if a car only drove on or touched a fog line (not over). The Court stated that its holding did not address other types of alleged marked lanes violations such as “centerline” cases.
Based on language of R.C. 4511.33(A)(1), the definitions in R.C. 4511.01, and the statutory scheme as whole, the Court held that the single solid white longitudinal line on the right edge of the roadway (fog or edge line) merely discourages or prohibits a driver from crossing it. It does not prohibit driving on or touching it.
The Court reversed the judgment of the 12th District and remanded the case to that court on the issue raised by the State as to whether the trooper reasonably believed that Turner violated the law when he drove on the fog line, making the stop lawful.
To resolve the issue the Court turned to statutory construction. In construing a statute a court does not ask what the legislature intended to enact, but what is the meaning of that which it did enact. When the language of a statute is plain and unambiguous there is no need for a court to apply rules of statutory interpretation. To determine the plain meaning of a statute, a court relies on definitions provided by the legislature.
R.C. 4511.33(A)(1) is part of a statutory scheme. The meaning of the roadway marking at issue and the movement permitted by that marking, is clear when that statute is considered in the context of the relevant definitions in R.C. 4511.01.
Under R.C. 4511.09, ODOT has authority to adopt a manual for a uniform system of traffic control devices. ODOT adopted the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). R.C. 4511.10 gives ODOT authority to place and maintain traffic control devices conforming to its manual and specifications upon all highways as necessary to indicate and carry out R.C. 4511.01 to 4511.78. Traffic control devices are defined under R.C. 4511.01(QQ) and include markings used to warn or guide traffic. Because the legislature gave ODOT authority to regulate marked lanes of traffic, the Court turned to the MUTCD for guidance. The Court then examined several sections of the MUTCD pertaining to markings, including one that contains a provision that the general function of a solid longitudinal line is to discourage or prohibit crossing.
R.C. 4511.33(A)(1) provides that “whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic…a vehicle shall be driven, as nearly as practicable, entirely within a single lane or line of traffic…” The road markings, as set forth in the MUTCD, define the bounds of the clearly marked lanes. The Court stated that under the MUTCD, a standard marking can be used only to convey the meaning prescribed for that marking in the MUTCD. In the instant case, the single solid white longitudinal line as used on this two-lane, two-way highway served only to mark the right-hand edge of the road and that marking only discourages or prohibits crossing it, not driving on it. Therefore, Turner’s touching of the fog line was not a marked lanes violation.
As to other types of alleged “clearly marked lanes violations,” it appears that the same analysis will be utilized.