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Criminal Offense of Improper Lane Usage

Criminal Offense of Improper Lane Usage

A motorist is under a duty to have all of his vehicle on the right side of the road, and while the driver of an approaching car is charged with the duty of exercising proper care to avoid a collision, he has the right to presume that the motorist of the vehicle on the wrong side of the road will move over entirely to his own side. This idea is incorporated into statutes governing improper lane usage. By its terms, if a roadway is divided into two or more marked lanes of traffic, a motorist must stay in his lane of traffic so far as possible or practical and may not move from his lane without first ascertaining that such a movement could be safely done.

In interpreting improper lane usage statutes, most courts agree that the statute is not violated unless the motorist did not stay within the lane because of an act or omission within his control. Other courts have also interpreted the statute as requiring more than a momentary crossing or touching of an edge or lane line. A federal district court, for example, determined that touching or even crossing the broken lane divider twice over a half mile could not be reasonably interpreted as erratic or unsafe driving and that crossing barely into the center lane was the same as driving as nearly as practicable within the same lane. Similarly, a federal circuit court concluded that a single occurrence of moving to the right shoulder of the roadway could not constitute a violation of the improper lane usage statute. The cases in which courts have upheld violation of improper lane usage statutes generally involved conduct much more egregious than the foregoing examples. In those cases, the motorist was observed straddling lanes or weaving from the shoulder of the roadway to the left lane and back, as to cause the traffic to brake or slow in an effort to avoid the motorist.

A motorist stopped for such an offense will receive a citation and fine. Besides the actual fine, the violation carries points, which could lead to a suspension of your driving privileges, and, potentially, increased insurance premiums. Improper lane changes, in combination with speeding and/or other driving acts in a continuous sequence, will be viewed as aggressive or reckless driving, which is, in itself, a serious traffic violation subject to extensive penalties, including fines, points, and suspension of one’s operating license.

Copyright 2011 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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