Each holiday season the police here in Tucson conduct annual DUI “saturation patrols.” These result in the arrests hundreds of people, most whom have never been charged with a crime in their lives.
But not everyone the police stop is swerving all over the road. Concentrating on Fourth Avenue, University of Arizona campus, and downtown, the police often use de minimus reasons as excuses to stop you: things they claim are traffic violations, but are actually things drivers do every day.
One of the police perennial favorites is “wide turns.” They usually claim, in the case of DUI’s, that it’s a violation of ARS§ 28-751. That’s what I want to talk about today.
The actual law says as follows:
A right-hand turn “shall be made as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.” ARS 28-751.1
For a left-hand turn a driver “shall approach the turn in the extreme left-hand lane … If practicable the driver shall make the left turn from left of the center of the intersection and shall make the turn into the left lane immediately available for the driver’s direction of travel.” ARS §28-751.2
But the police, particularly the DUI police around the holidays, might like to think of this as meaning that when making a right-hand turn, if you turn into the second lane it’s a violation of ARS §28-729.
But this is not exactly true. In fact, at many of the intersections, especially in the downtown area, exactly where police tend to concentrate around the holidays, the intersections are old, poorly designed, and built in the 1930’s when cars were smaller and laws were different.
In terms of vehicle dynamics, as an engineer would tell you, the minimum turning radius at those intersections is so small, that it is very difficult for a normal person to make a right-hand turn into the first lane.
In fact, we’ve have done our own studies at many of these intersections, including Third Avenue and Sixth Street, Fourth Avenue and Sixth Street, Euclid and Sixth Street, Euclid and Fifth Street, Euclid and Speedway, Euclid and Ninth Street, Euclid and Broadway, to name a few. And we’ve found that almost all the time the majority of drivers make right hand turns into the second lane.
We have had several experts, licensed engineers and police reconstructionists, testify about the design and traffic patterns at precisely these old intersections. Completing laborious videoed studies, they then demonstrate to judges and juries why most people make the turns into the second lanes at these intersections.
In fact, for one intersection, our engineer-reconstructionist actually, and fortuitously, made a video of a police car making the turn just like our client did—at the very same intersection –into the second lane. And we showed it to the judge. Her DUI was dismissed.
These experts also testify, lucidly and eloquently, that because a person’s natural instinct is to turn smoothly into the first full lane that is practicable, on these old tight radius intersections, it is not fair to stop drivers turning smoothly into the second lane.
Moreover, the law, particularly for right-hand turns, doesn’t actually say, as the police might have it, which precise lane you should turn into. Only that a right-hand turn “shall be made as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.”
Sometimes, after we have presented this sort of evidence, the DUI cases are dismissed.
As the holidays approach, of course, be especially careful. Uber it home if you’ve been drinking. Be vigilant if you are driving, especially in the downtown-University area, particularly when making these turns. I hope this helps.