Fighting an Unsafe Lane Change Ticket

How much an unsafe lane change ticket costs and how to fight it.

If you receive a ticket for an unsafe lane change, you might want to fight it if you believe that you safely changed lanes. Most unsafe lane change tickets are based on the subjective interpretation of a law enforcement officer—something that's easier to challenge than "hard" evidence like readings from a radar gun.

What Is Considered an Unsafe Lane Change?

Officers might issue unsafe lane change tickets when drivers don't use blinkers, cross multiple lanes of traffic, or don't leave room for other cars to maneuver around them. Whether a lane change is safe or not is determined by state law. And unsafe lane change laws generally are similar from state to state.

Most state statutes require that drivers change lanes with caution. The law in your state might be something like this:

Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic in one direction, the following rule applies: A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until such movement can be made with reasonable safety.

Your unsafe lane change ticket should list the specific state, county, or city code section that you're being charged with violating. Using a quick internet search, you should be able to use that code section to find the exact language of the law that you're accused of violating.

How Much Does an Unsafe Lane Change Ticket Cost?

The cost of an unsafe lane change ticket varies from state to state. Plus, some states have additional court fees on top of the cost of the ticket. For instance, an unsafe lane change fine might be $125, but the court might impose additional court costs of $75. Ultimately, you're probably looking at total fines and costs from $150 to $300.

But the fine likely won't be the only cost you'll face. Your insurance rates could increase if you're found guilty of an unsafe lane change violation. And you might receive traffic violation points. If you have too many points on your driving record from multiple traffic offenses, the state could suspend your license.

If you don't have any points on your record, you also might be able to attend traffic school to avoid a conviction. Traffic school is a good option if you don't want to fight your ticket but still want to avoid a conviction and points.

How to Fight an Unsafe Lane Change Ticket

You often can fight an unsafe lane change ticket without a lawyer. You will have to go to traffic court and explain to the judge why you aren't guilty of the unsafe lane change—so you'll need to feel confident that you can talk in front of a judge. You'll also need to feel comfortable challenging the officer's opinion and memory in court.

Usually, you will have been cited because a law enforcement officer determined that you didn't change lanes "with reasonable safety." So the trick to fighting your ticket will be to either undermine the officer's judgment or show that you were in fact driving safely. To best do this, you'll need to prepare your case ahead of time and be able think on your feet during the hearing.

Traffic court might be the first time you hear the officer's explanation for giving you a ticket. Before you go to the hearing, you should think through all the possible statements the officer might make and be prepared to counter them on the fly. Think about things you did right—like checking your mirrors or using your signal before changing lanes—that you can tell the judge. Bring evidence that supports your case, such as photographs of the location—marked with your location and the officer's location—and witnesses who can back up your story.

For example, if the officer states that your lane change was unsafe because it forced another car to brake, you can counter that the other car had to brake because it was going too fast—not because you weren't driving safely. Take into account what the officer's view was when you changed lanes. By using photographs of the street, you possibly can argue that the officer wasn't close enough to see or had an obstructed view of your vehicle—this will bring the officer's opinion about your lane change into doubt.

Hiring a Lawyer and Learning More

If your situation is complicated by an accident, DUI, or another citation that suggests that you were driving recklessly, you would be wise to get a lawyer's help. A lawyer will know what to expect in the court room, and how best to prepare your defense.

It might be expensive to hire a lawyer, but in complicated situations, the money will be well spent because there's usually more than just a fine at stake. For example, if your lane change resulted in an accident, you could be personally liable for the damages—this could cost you many thousands of dollars and the loss of your license. So hiring a lawyer to put on your best possible defense could be well worth the expense.

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