Virginia Traffic Law: No Signal is a Signal to Pull You Over

Sometimes it feels like you can get pulled over for anything in Virginia.

Virginia Code § 46.2-848 states:

“Every driver who intends to back, stop, turn, or partly turn from a direct line shall first see that such movement can be made safely and, whenever the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by such movement, shall give the signals required in this article, plainly visible to the driver of such other vehicle, of his intention to make such movement.”

In Wilson v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1691-13-2 (Va. Ct. Appeals 2015) (unpublished), a driver was heading east on Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond.  He was followed by a police officer in an unmarked car about 1 to 2 car lengths behind.    He moved his automobile into a lane designated for only left turns.  As no cars were imminently coming eastbound at the time, he then made his left turn without incident.  But, considering that he did not put on this turn signal, he was pulled over and his passenger was arrested on drug and gun charges.

So did the officer have reasonable, articulable suspicion that the driver had engaged in criminal activity by failing to put on his turn signal?  Yes, according to the Richmond City Circuit Court and the Virginia Court of Appeals.

But what about the fact that literally no one was affected by this left turn?  Well, the courts held that the police officer following behind may have been affected by such movement in the absence of a signal.  Indeed, the appellate court held that unannounced turns are particularly problematic for police vehicles, which might need to adjust their driving on the fly in emergency situations.

But what about the fact that this was a designated turn lane so of course the driver was going to turn left?   In other words, what about the fact that no following car should ever be affected by someone turning left in a lane designated for that very purpose?  Well, the appellate court’s opinion never addresses that one.