People v. Mueller, 2018 IL App (2d) 170863 (December). Episode 572 (Duration 8:47)
Jeep touches the traffic lines 3 times and gets stopped, reasonable?
Defendant was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol (625 ILCS 5/11-501(a)(1), (a)(2)) and improper lane usage (ILU) (625 ILCS 5/11-709(a)).
Innocent Left Turn
Defendant’s Jeep was stopped in the left-turn lane at a light at the intersection at 1:40 am on a rural road. When the light turned green, she turned left onto Route 31. There was nothing unusual in the turn.
The sheriff’s deputy followed defendant. She was not speeding.
Then Jeep’s driver’s-side tires rolled onto the yellow center line and touched it for a few seconds. The vehicle did not cross the line but returned to its lane.
Did It A Second Time
Then a second time after traveling some distance, the Jeep’s passenger’s-side tires touched the white fog line but never crossed over it. The Jeep never left the lane. The Jeep moved back toward the center of the lane without doing anything unusual.
Happened A Third Time
Then a third violation was when the Jeep’s passenger’s-side tires again rode on the white fog line. This was “momentary.” The tires never crossed over the line. Other than the three incidents of what he regarded as ILU, the sheriff’s deputy did not see defendant violate any traffic laws.
He acknowledged that the stretch of road on which he followed defendant was not straight and had “some twists and turns.” Also, he acknowledged that the video system in his squad car had been inoperable since October 2016 and that he had not requested any repair.
Based on the three incidents alone, he stopped the Jeep nearly a mile from where he first saw it.
Trial Court Findings
The trial court said the sheriff’s deputy’s testimony had been “problematic. He either didn’t remember important details or was flippant with defendant’s attorney. The sheriff’s deputy never saw the Jeep’s tires cross over either the yellow center line or the white fog line, nor did he observe any jerky or erratic driving corrections.
The three lane-line touches occurred over a mile-long twisting and turning stretch of road.
The trial court noted that, current law required evidence that defendant’s tires crossed over the lane lines to create a reasonable suspicion of ILU.
That had not occurred.
She moved to quash her arrest and suppress evidence, contesting the initial stop of her vehicle for ILU.
Question: Was there sufficient reasonable suspicion justifying the traffic stop? Does a vehicle have to cross the line or does merely touching it register as an improper lane usage?
Illinois Traffic Code on Lane Usage
Section 11-709(a) states that,
“Whenever any roadway has been divided into 2 or more clearly marked lanes for traffic,..vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.”
Crossing The Lane Will Get You Stopped
Although the statute requires a driver to remain entirely within a single lane only as nearly as practicable, it is settled that an officer may stop a vehicle for driving outside its lane for no obvious reason, without further inquiry into practicability. Hackett, 2012 IL 111781, ¶¶ 27-28.
To be clear what we are asking here is if the sheriff’s deputy had a reasonable suspicion that defendant failed to drive “entirely within a single lane” (625 ILCS 5/11-709(a)), when (1) her driver’s-side tires touched, but did not cross, the yellow center line or (2) her passenger’s-side tires touched, but did not cross, the white fo
Trial Court’s Ruling
The trial court relied on
- People v. Hackett, 2012 IL 111781, ¶ 9
- People v. Smith, 172 Ill. 2d 289, 297 (1996)
- People v. Flint, 2012 IL App (3d) 110165, ¶¶ 8, 17 and
- People v. Leyendecker, 337 Ill. App. 3d 678, 680, 682 (2003)
…which, it stated, all held that a person commits ILU only when his or her vehicle crosses the center line or the fog line.
However, in none of those cases did the defendant merely touch the line without crossing it. Each motorist crossed the line. In each case the court held that crossing the line is ILU, but in no case did it explicitly hold that only crossing the line is ILU.
What Is A Traffic Lane?
The Illinois statute does not define “lane” and does not specify whether either a center line or a fog line is part of the “lane” in which the driver is traveling.
Although the Code does not specifically define “lane,” it defines “laned roadway” as
“a roadway which is divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for vehicular traffic.”
625 ILCS 5/1-136.
As a matter of established usage, a “lane” is “a strip of roadway for a single line of vehicles.” Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary 652 (10th ed. 2001). As these definitions suggest, in common practice, a traffic “lane” is one in which vehicles legally and customarily are driven toward their destinations.
Dividing lines or boundary lines, by contrast, are legally and customarily used only to change lanes, turn, or make other maneuvers (see 625 ILCS 5/11-709(a) (vehicle “shall not be moved from such lane until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety”)).
If a line’s purpose is to divide two lanes, then a vehicle has not changed lanes until it has crossed the line.
Moreover, this interpretation is consistent with the official rules of the road, in Illinois and elsewhere. “Yellow center lines separate lanes of traffic moving in opposite directions.” Ill. Sec’y of State, 2018 Illinois Rules of the Road 76 (Mar. 2018)), https://www.cyberdriveillinois .com/publications/pdf_publications/dsd_a112.pdf. [https://perma.cc/3GA7-MJGH].
Not Ambiguous Either
We conclude that the statute is unambiguous. Therefore, Heien and Gaytan do not apply and the stop cannot be validated as based on a reasonable mistake of law.
In any event, we note that a stop for ILU is valid when “a police officer observes multiple lane deviations, for no obvious reason.” Hackett, 2012 IL 111781, ¶ 28.
Here, even if defendant’s multiple touches could be considered “lane deviations,” the road’s “twists and turns” provided an innocent (and obvious) explanation for those brief touches.
Thus, under any construction of section 11-709(a), the trial court correctly granted defendant’s motion to quash and suppress. We affirm the order of the circuit court of McHenry County.
- More Illinois DUI Cases
- More Illinois Search & Seizure Cases
- Episode 232 – People v. Lubienski, 2016 IL App (3d) 150813 (September) (Crossing The Line One Time Justifies A Traffic Stop)
- Episode 434 – People v. Lomeli, 2017 IL App (3d) 150815 (December) (Traffic Stop Based On Dangling Rosary Is Legal)
- Episode 142 – People v. Little, 2016 IL App (3d) 130683 (February) (Reasonable Suspicion Does Not Require Ruling Out All Innocent Behavior)