This is Part Five of a five part series on analyzing traffic stops. In this series, I discuss four specific traffic laws commonly used by law enforcement officers in the Amarillo area to initiate traffic stops. As I mentioned in my April 28 post, the legality of traffic stops are analyzed under the two-prong test set out in Terry v. Ohio.
Under Texas statutory law, it is unlawful to drive in the left lane under certain circumstance. § 544.004 of the Texas Transportation Code entitled “Compliance with Traffic-Control Device” provides:
(a) The operator of a vehicle or streetcar shall comply with an applicable official traffic-control device placed as provided by this subtitle unless the person is:
(1) otherwise directed by a traffic or police officer; or
(2) operating an authorized emergency vehicle and is subject to exceptions under this subtitle.
(b) A provision of this subtitle requiring an official traffic-control device may not be enforced against an alleged violator if at the time and place of the alleged violation the device is not in proper position and sufficiently legible to an ordinarily observant person. A provision of this subtitle that does not require an official traffic-control device is effective regardless of whether a device is in place.
§ 544.011 of the Texas Transportation Code entitled “Lane Use Signs” provides:
If, on a highway having more than one lane with vehicles traveling in the same direction, the Texas Department of Transportation or a local authority places a sign that directs slower traffic to travel in a lane other than the farthest left lane, the sign must read “left lane for passing only.”
As I have mentioned in this series on analyzing traffic stops, probable cause to stop a vehicle is determined by the two-prong test set out in Terry v. Ohio. If an officer has a reasonable basis for suspecting a person has committed a traffic offense, the officer may legally initiate a traffic stop. Garcia v. State, 827 S.W.2d 937, 944 (Tex.Crim.App. 1992). Texas courts have held that driving in left lane, after passing a sign that read “left lane for passing only” provides reasonable suspicion of traffic violation to justify a traffic stop. Green v. State, 935 S.W.3d 541, 545-546 (Tex.App. – Texarkana 2002, no writ history). See also Baker V. State, 50 S.W. 3d 143 (Tex. App. – Eastland 2001, pet. ref’d.).
The issue in these cases is: Where was the traffic-control sign in relation to the traffic stop and is reasonable to believe that the driver of the vehicle saw the sign?
Again, these types of cases are challenged by filing a motion to suppress evidence and requiring the State to offer evidence to show the Court the officer had probable cause to stop the vehicle.