A police officer must have some justification for making a traffic stop. In some traffic stops that lead to O.V.I. (D.U.I.) arrests, the justification for the stop is a “Marked Lanes” violation. But what is a Marked Lanes violation, and when does it justify a traffic stop?
The Ohio statute containing the rules for driving in marked lanes is R.C. 4511.33. That statute states: “A vehicle or trackless trolley shall be driven, as nearly as is practicable, entirely within a single lane or line of traffic and shall not be moved from such lane or line until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”
To stop a vehicle for a Marked Lanes violation (or other traffic violation), Delaware v. Prouse says an officer must have “articulable and reasonable suspicion” that an offense has been or is being committed. “Reasonable articulable suspicion” is defined as the ability of the officer “to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant” making a traffic stop.
The Ohio Supreme Court addressed Marked Lanes violations in State v. Mays. In that case, a trooper observed the defendant’s vehicle drift across the white fog line by approximately one tire width two times. The trooper made a traffic stop and ultimately charged Mays with O.V.I. (D.U.I.). The trial court ruled that the officer did not have justification for the traffic stop, but the Fifth District Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s decision. Mays appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, and the case was determined to be in conflict with the Third District’s decision in State v. Phillips (the Third District concluded that crossing the fog line three times did not justify the traffic stop). The Ohio Supreme Court in Mays held that crossing the white fog line gave the trooper reasonable suspicion to justify the traffic stop and also commented that probable cause (a higher standard of proof) is not required to make the stop.
One interesting issue regarding Marked Lanes violations is the statute’s requirement that a vehicle must be driven within one lane “as nearly as is practicable”. Two Ohio Appellate courts have reached different interpretations of the phrase “as nearly as is practicable”. In State v. Rochowiak, the Second District Court of Appeals reasoned that a driver who crosses the lane line must prove, as an affirmative defense, that the vehicle was still “as nearly as is practicable” within a single lane. In State v. Hernandez, however, the Tenth District Court of Appeals concluded that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the driver did not drive within one lane “as nearly as is practicable”.
Another interesting issue regarding marked lanes violations is this: is it a violation if the vehicle’s tire touches the line? I have handled cases in which the justification for the traffic stop was touching the lane line. I have argued, successfully, that touching the line is not a marked lanes violation, as the vehicle touching the line is still “entirely within a single lane”, and Mays apparently requires drifting “across” the line for a marked lanes violation to occur.