By on June 2, 2011

California drivers do not need to use their turn signals if no other car is nearby according to a ruling handed down Friday by the state’s second-highest court. A three-judge panel of the court of appeal found that La Habra Police Officer Nick Wilson was in the wrong when he stopped Paul David Carmona, Jr. for making a right-hand turn in his Chevy SUV without signaling. Wilson was about 55 feet away traveling in the opposite direction at the time Carmona made his turn. The road was otherwise empty.

Officer Wilson charged Carmona with violating Vehicle Code section 22107, which states a signal must be used when “any other vehicle may be affected by the movement.” The prosecutor argued that Carmona actually violated a separate law, section 22108, which states, “Any signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given continuously during the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.” The Orange County Superior Court agreed with the prosecutor.

“Because Wilson was approaching from the opposite direction when Carmona’s vehicle made a right-hand turn away from Wilson’s vehicle, and no other vehicles were present, there was no possible violation of section 22107,” Justice Kathleen E. O’Leary wrote for the court. “The attorney general apparently agrees as there is no argument on appeal that Wilson reasonably suspected a violation of section 22107.”

The attorney general argued instead that the next statute, section 22108, was a “stand alone” provision requiring a signal within 100 feet of any turn, regardless of whether other motorists might be affected. The appellate court disagreed after making a detailed analysis of the structure of the vehicle code.

“Sections 22107 and 22108 must be read together so that when a motorist is required by section 22107 to give a turn signal, that signal must be given continuously during the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning,” O’Leary wrote. “Our conclusion is borne out by looking at the entire chapter of which sections 22107 and 22108 are part…. Were section 22108 construed as containing a stand-alone directive that a turn signal be given continuously regardless of the presence of any other vehicle that might be affected, section 22107 would be rendered meaningless.”

As a result of the decision, the court ordered evidence of drugs found in the car as a result of the stop should be suppressed. A copy of the decision is available in a 90k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File California v. Carmona (Court of Appeal, State of California, 5/27/2011)


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47 Comments on “California Court: Turn Signal Unnecessary When Nobody is Looking...”

  • avatar

    Wish this ruling was around in Colorado a few years ago. I got nailed for being a late-20-something in a Dakar yellow E36 M3 driving on Platte in Co. Springs. Nobody around, I changed lanes and got pulled over by a moto cop (parked on the sidewalk!) for not using a signal. It stung even more because I’m the guy who ALWAYS signals—one of the only times I don’t, it costs me $150.

  • avatar

    Here’s hoping this judge gets the case for rolling right-turn “stops” at STOP signs and red lights when, you know, the driver already has confirmed that no one is coming.

    If we’re really lucky, it will be a case involving one of those high-revenue red light cams…..

  • avatar

    Dammit, I give my friend crap for doing this all the time. “There’s no one around!” he says. I will have to find other things to nitpick.

    • 0 avatar

      “There’s no one around!” is very poor logic. The most important signaling is for the people who you don’t see.

      I’ve also heard “its on private property!” But that doesn’t hold water either: “Your honor, the UPS delivery man came on my property; I didn’t ask him to leave, I didn’t call the police, I didn’t even see him; he was not threatening me in any way, but I decided to run him over anyway!”

      I’ve also heard “it’s in a parking lot!” But I don’t think parking lots are generally excluded from traffic laws, especially parking lots in “public” places like malls and supermarkets. Even if parking laws don’t apply, see “its on private property!” above.

      • 0 avatar

        Poor argument. If you run over the UPS man, the crime is injuring him, not breaking traffic laws in doing so. Traffic regulations apply to public highways.

        By your logic, state speed limits would apply on racetracks.

  • avatar

    This is not good because it encourages conditional observance of the law. Any parent can tell you that conditional enforcement is worse than no enforcement at all.

    It also encourages “Well, I didn’t signal because I didn’t see the other guy!” type behaviour. Either the law applies, or it doesn’t. Telling people it’s conditional is asking for the envelope to be pushed.

    Either don’t require signalling, or require it all the time.

    • 0 avatar

      I see your point, but sometimes it’s better to follow the spirit of the law rather than the letter. I know it leaves more room for interpretation, but always applying the letter of the law can lead to problematic results as well (such as punishing someone for something that really isn’t deserving of being punished).

    • 0 avatar


    • 0 avatar

      Except that most laws are conditional by nature. You have two parts: what you are required to do (or not do), followed by the circumstances under which the proscription applies. 22108 already lays a condition: you don’t use your turn signal always. You use it within 100 feet of commencing your turn.

      The Law (capital “L”) is *all about* conditions. In an ideal world, the conditionals encoded within the law would line up very closely to the conditions a reasonable person would apply. Any time we push the law a little closer to that state (and I’d argue that this is one of those cases), it’s a good thing. The message to people is: use your judgment. The message to law enforcement is: no ticky-tack penalties.

      You could make a separate argument that this might install a bad habit in some people, but it’s implicit in the law that the responsibility of determining if any other vehicle will be affected lies with the driver. If you do something, and law enforcement observes and disagrees with your judgment, you’ll end up in court and can make your case to the magistrate.

      I always use my signal, even if I think that no one is around/would be affected, simply because I know that I’m not omniscient. Someday, I’m going to not see someone, and I don’t want it to result in me getting creamed by 3,500 pounds of zooming metal, or taking out a biker, etc.

      • 0 avatar

        Great points, and very clear as well. Thanks for that (and I always use my signals as well–I’m not omniscient either, and I also don’t want to create any potentially bad habits).

      • 0 avatar

        “…it’s implicit in the law that the responsibility of determining if any other vehicle will be affected lies with the driver…”

        People without vehicles also count.

        Or don’t they, to you?

    • 0 avatar

      “Either don’t require signalling, or require it all the time.”

      The east coast megapolis philosophy, which sadly has spread pretty much everywhere else now too, which is that all that is not required is forbidden.

      • 0 avatar
        M 1

        That’s a stretch.

        My ex-father-in-law regularly ran red lights at night on the basis of whether or not he saw other cars around. While he is right in an abstract way, it’s a bad idea for exactly the same reasons.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with psar. This should be enforced 100% of the time. Why not make stop signs/lights optional if you can see all directions? That wouldn’t be a good idea because you won’t always see everyone all the time.

      I understand that people are saying that laws may not what to be interrupted to the letter 100% of the time. But, I don’t see any occasion where this shouldn’t be followed all of the time for turn signals.

  • avatar

    That sounds kind of dangerous; if you simply always require it and get people to do it by habit and ritual instead of trying to decide whether they should or not, it removes a decision point that people can screw up.

    Disclosure: I also wear the seat belt if I’m just in the car listening to the radio with the engine off and the parking brake on.

  • avatar

    I am asking the herd to envision a fairly common scenario.

    Depending upon traffic flow, vehicle positions, etc.

    You are turning right at the next intersection.

    There may or may not be a separate right-turn lane.

    There are numerous streets intersecting the street you are currently travelling on AND/or ample adjacent parking lots, etc. where vehicles can enter the street you are on now and will be turning right from.

    In my mind i am thinking of a particular street with a separate right-turn lane with several locations close to the right-turn location with one entrance that empties onto the right-turn lane itself but is also an access to the street that is the source of traffic flow onto the dedicated right-turn lane.

    The inputs onto the street and dedicated right-turn lane also allow right turns from the street and the right-turn lane onto the side streets and parking lots.

    Care must be taken because signaling too soon can and will be interpreted by a vehicle awaiting to enter the street that you want to turn before you actually intend to.

    100 feet before entering the right-turn lane can and will, at times, result in the vehicle waiting to pull into either the right-turn lane OR cross that lane and enter the street feeding that right-turn lane so that vehicle can proceed upon the go-straight lanes (a four-lane street with 2 eastbound and 2 westbound lanes and a median separating the two.

    Experience, past and present, has taught me great care is needed when and where to signal.

    I also slow down. Doing that is not a panacea since the act of slowing, with OR without a signal, can “signal to” other vehicles, behind you and vehicles wanting to enter the street you are on, that you intend to turn right.

    It can be a no-win situation for even the most skilled, attentive driver depending upon the skills of nearby drivers and how much of a rush they are in.

    I use various cues, clues and decades of extensive driving experience to safely navigate these situations that are fraught with peril.

    Written rules do not and, basically, can not, inform you as to the best way to handle these situations.

    Keep thine eyes open and look for similar “set-ups” in your driving environment.

    Doing so will assist you in visualizing that which is difficult to describe with words.

    Or, perhaps, you have already noted these locales.

    My experience has been very few cops possess the pre-requisites of situational awareness to even notice what I have written about.

    • 0 avatar

      The California driver’s handbook covers this situation as well, noting that you should not signal until after other possible turns. I assume there is a specific law and that it would override 22108 in this case.

  • avatar

    Argh — put this comment in the wrong place. Should have a reply to the above. Moved!

  • avatar

    At some point, the attorney general is arguing revenue as opposed to safety. Also what happens when intersections are less than a 100 feet apart and you’re making a right then a quick left? You’d have to start signaling left before you make your right turn in some instances.

  • avatar
    green on top

    What about pedestrians at the cross walks?

  • avatar
    John Horner

    What a crazy ruling and a crazy law. Use of turn signals should be required at all turns. Period. The end. People are already far too lazy about using this basic device and I hate for them to have one more excuse not to bother.

    I often wonder: “What is that driver’s left hand so busy with that they can’t flick the turn signal lever?”

    • 0 avatar

      “What is that driver’s left hand so busy with that they can’t flick the turn signal lever?”

      Holding the phone (or burger) of course.

    • 0 avatar

      answer: left hand is holding a cellphone.

      My further (ridiculous) suggestion: all cars have stick shift so all the hands are busy operating the car (and there are no hands available for cellphones).

      I would further point out that turn signals should be used to give notice ahead of time of a turn. Not after suddenly braking from 60 mph to 20 mph and then signaling – defeats the purpose of a turn signal.

      • 0 avatar

        Unless you’re talented enough to drive a manual and juggle the phone. I have friends who do it. This is a non-issue for me as I always have my windows open anyway and can’t hear the phone.

        For the few times when I need it my car came with Bluetooth standard. I know, it’s the distraction of the phone and not the act of holding it, but still.

        Not here to start an argument though.

  • avatar

    One of the reasons to use indicators is to warn other drivers you may not have seen.

    • 0 avatar

      Why even make signals necessary at all? I’ve never become angry at someone for not signaling. You shouldn’t trust what people are signaling anyway; always be prepared for them to do the opposite of what they are indicating. If you choose your actions based on their signals you’re putting yourself in a bad position.

  • avatar

    One thing that I’ve done, and it probably irritates some drivers, is wait until a person with his signal actually starts turning before I enter an intersection, if they’re close enough to the intersection where a collision could occur. This is one thing my dad taught me because you can never be sure when somebody has made a lane change and forgot to deactivate their signal.

    I’ve almost gotten creamed by people who had a signal on and continued going straight too many times to count.

    That being said, I once forgot to signal in my friend’s car and made a right turn. It was 3 in the morning and nobody was around, as is the case in the article, and I was pulled over. Luckily I was let off with a warning as I think the police, knowing my friend’s car, were concerned that it wasn’t driven exactly how he would drive it.

  • avatar

    Arrrrrrgh, this really irritates me. It encourages careless, sloppy driving. One of the functions of turn signals is to warn a vehicle or pedestrian that you can’t see or didn’t notice, which is why you should use them (and should be required to use them) whether or not you think there is “another vehicle” present.

  • avatar

    I dunno how the law reads in PA, but I always signal; I mean, the stalk is right there on the steering column. Even if it appears no one’s around, there could be someone you can’t see, including a cop.

    There’s absolutely no harm in using your signal, unless of course you signal right and turn left, or vice versa; I’ve witnessed both from my fellow Philadelphian drivers.

  • avatar

    In Boston-it seems using a turn signal (aka blinkahs) is a sign of weakness.

    I use mine all the time.

    It burns ass when people don’t. My wife shakes here head when I flip the bird to nearly everyone who turns on me without signaling.

  • avatar
    M 1

    Anyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle in traffic can tell you why this ruling is hare-brained.

    • 0 avatar

      The law may be hare-brained, but the ruling is sound. Don’t blame the court because there are elements to this particular traffic offense that the State failed to prove sufficiently to justify the stop. Blame the prosecution for failing to address all the elements adequately, or blame the legislature for drafting such an equivocal statute. Either way, the court did its job instead of legislating from the bench. This was a “pretextual” stop. No doubt about it. Next time they’ll remember to claim that the driver failed to maintain lane instead.

  • avatar

    I was at a stop sign on a side street waiting to pull out onto a four-lane street. A car approaching from my left in the right lane had its turn signal on. I was going to pull out but something made me stop. He crossed in front of me and pulled into a business just past the side street. That happened a looong time ago, and is the main reason why I wait until I see where an oncoming car is going even if the turn signal is on. Realistically, all that means is that the guy’s turn signal works.

    At the same time, if there’s no one to signal to, I don’t signal. If there’s someone my action will affect, I signal well before making the turn or the lane change. A signal that doesn’t happen until one’s wheels are already crossing the edge of the lane is as bad as no signal at all.

    There are other ways to signal to other drivers too…if I’m slowing to turn right, I start moving right a little bit if there’s room. If I’m turning left, I’ll move toward the left edge of the lane I’m in. It’s all about trying to move in a predictable manner.

    • 0 avatar

      > if I’m slowing to turn right,

      Why are you slowing? Can’t you turn without slowing? :)

      > I start moving right a little bit if there’s room. If
      > I’m turning left, I’ll move toward the left edge of the lane I’m in.

      By doing this you early apex your turns, making it more dangerous for everyone. I do the opposite and late apex my turns.

  • avatar

    Seriously, how hard is it to signal? Does it cost you anything? Pedestrians, cyclists and unseen motorists partly base their movements on indicators of vehicles in traffic. No excuse to not signal all the time, if you ask me.

  • avatar

    I agree with you Parshegian, using your turn signal should be automatic, regardless whether any one else is around, that way the excuse of “I did not see that car next to me” does not need to be used. However a $150 fine for not using your turn signal is excessive and probably a good source of revenue for the LAPD. I further think that if we were responsible for knowing how many points and how many dollars each infraction costs, we would certainly be better drivers, right now most drivers just have a vague idea, and it depends which state you are driving in.

  • avatar

    If I am in a “turn only” lane, and have a green arrow, for example, I usually dont signal. There is no possible conflict, unless the other driver or pedestrian is running a red light. I think Im covered by section 22107 CVC. I dont carry contraband and never been stopped for such a violation.

    All of these high court vehicle code cases seem to result, not from someone contesting a ticket for its own sake, but drugs or guns found in the vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      People generally don’t take a $50 traffic ticket and turn it into a Supreme Court case. Heck, if I spend more than a few hours away from work to contest a ticket I’m probably losing money even if I win. But if a third-striker facing actual time can get the evidence against him thrown out because the traffic stop was illegal; that’s a different story.

    • 0 avatar

      This is lunacy.

  • avatar

    This issue here is NOT the common sense argument, it’s the way the law was written, and that’s the Judge’s point.
    The law was trying to have it both ways…in one section.
    She was not allowing it.
    Rewrite the law and be specific by separating the two sections.

    As far a red light right turns, these are not connected to other sections allowing for rolling stops, or whatever, if nobody around…so you need to stop at a red light, or get a ticket.

  • avatar

    I always use my signal, but what chaffs me big time is the over sensitive canceling device on my truck (1992 Ford Ranger) and Ford has used such a device since at least the late 70’s. I know as I once had a 78 Ford Fairmont that also self canceled too readily.

    What this means is I HAVE to hit the damned signal more than once, even if I’m changing lanes in some cases, JUST to maintain my signal.

    Why did Ford do this, I have no idea and don’t know if they still do this although when I test drove the new Fiesta last summer, I don’t recall it being hyper sensitive to canceling.

    As for the law itself, seems to me that it’s too easy to recall one section, but not both and leave the discretion to the driver is perhaps not the best idea and 100Ft seems a little excessive as it could take in exits/entrances to parking lots etc as had been noted. I always use my signal and the very few times I haven’t were not intentional.

  • avatar

    I am with you, as far as the turn signal canceling either too quick or in my case too late, which means I am driving after my turn and the blinker stays on, the tic toc of the blinker is often overwhelmed by the radio.

    I think the blinker should cancel after ten seconds automatically, whether you turned or not, that way if you changed lanes you would not have to keep your finger on the damn lever so you can let it go after you have made your maneuver. BTW when you make your maneuver you probably would want both hands on the steering wheel instead of worrying about putting your finger on the turn signal lever.

  • avatar

    I can’t argue with those that signal all the time. Good for you. I think though that a more important personal rule is to always monitor the traffic around you and use good judgement for everything you do while driving a car.
    If there is no one around and I am turning into a right turn lane for a green light turn or changing lanes and I don’t signal, I would hope that the cop and/or the judge would say that the situation did not warrant a fine.
    One should always drive in a way that allows everyone else to know your intentions. If there is no one else around and I signaled a turn, then I would question whether I was being careless by just signaling instead of being very sure of my surroundings. The driver, cop, and judge should always stay focused on good judgement, not just on the rule book. Many cops drive this way, and I choose to do the same.

  • avatar

    Two things are wrong with this:

    First, the headline: “Turn Signal Unnecessary When Nobody is Looking” followed by the first sentence after headline: “…do not need to use their turn signals if no other car is nearby…”

    So which is it — “nobody”, or “no other car”? To the writer, it seems to be the same thing… Pedestrians don’t count at all, eh?

    Hey, I’m a car nut and everything too… But I do actually move on foot a lot of the time too, and I think this kind of writing, where people as such don’t even seem to exist to the writer unless they’re in their cars, is taking car-nuttery quite a bit too far. (Taking the headline and the first sentence together, BTW, it seems the writer thinks it’s _the car_ that is doing the looking.)

    Second, as “green on top” said, “What about pedestrians at the cross walks?” It always pisses me off to no end when I hang around waiting for a car to go by before I dare cross the street — and then it turns off at the nearby crossing and doesn’t continue across my path at all. Usually, while I’ve been waiting, all the other cars approaching along my street have got so close that now I have to wait for all of _them, too_, where otherwise I would have been long gone across the street if I hadn’t had to wait for the first one. That b*****d makes me wait double, so to speak… But I bet he never thought about me as having a legitimate interest in knowing what he’s going to do, since to him it’s enough that _he_ knows he’s not going to cross my path.

    People don’t consider that what they are NOT going to do is also sometimes essential information.

    Which is why I am also firmly in the use-your-indicators-ALL-the-time camp.

    • 0 avatar

      Wow. I just had to register to respond to this.

      First, you speak as if you believe no driver, EVER considers the pedestrian (based on your other comment and your example given). I’m sure you don’t actually believe that. That would be fallacious.

      Second, as to your “which is it?” question, meaning: is it ok to NOT signal when there’s “nobody” around or when there’s “no other car” around…? You KNOW the answer because you can read the law. Just pointing bad writing? Ok maybe it’s bad writing, but we all KNOW what the law says, namely that you only need to signal if another vehicle will be affected. So the answer is “no other car” and not “nobody”. Again maybe just bad writing. Now I wouldn’t simply complain about you complaining about the writer, except that you’re using your complaint to again insinuate that nobody cares about the pedestrian (your words: “pedestrians don’t count at all, eh?”)

      Third, the writer DOES NOT think, nor does it SEEM the writer thinks that “it’s the car that is doing the looking”; you’re just nitpicking based on words.

      Finally; what do pedestrians have to do with this law??? Yes, drivers **should** signal for pedestrians who are “around” and who would be “affected” by a driver’s turn, but that it outside the scope of this law. The law only requires a driver to signal to other DRIVERS (in vehicles) that both ARE PRESENT and would be AFFECTED by the 1st driver’s turn. If those conditions exist, the driver is required to signal (hint: because the driver is paying attention so as to respond when those comditions are recognized)

      If your argument is over a pedestrian in a crosswalk, then the rules change entirely. The pedestrian now has right of way and the car is required to yield (notwithstanding your example, in which the driver should, as a courtesy but not required by THIS LAW, signal to the pedestrian, which, by the way, would NOT tell the pedestrian WHICH turn off the driver is about to take, the closer one or the further one which the pedestrian is crossing)

      And I hope you’re not referring to a pedestrian standing on the corner WAITING to ENTER the crosswalk. If the pedestrian is still on the sidewalk, they DO NOT have right of way. A driver is not required to yield to any random pedestrian on the SIDEWALK. The pedestrian must ENTER the crosswalk to gain the righ of way that comes with it.

  • avatar

    MNo other vehicles about, What about the patrol car does it not count

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