Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio
Court News Ohio

Driving on Outer Edge Line Not Traffic Violation

Image of a vehicle tire on a white line on a road

An Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper incorrectly charged a motorist with a traffic violation for driving on –  but not over –  the single solid white line on the right edge of a state highway, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

Image of a vehicle tire on a white line on a road

The Court ruled today that driving on –  but not over –  the single solid white line on the right edge of a state highway is not a traffic violation.

An Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper incorrectly charged a motorist with a traffic violation for driving on –  but not over –  the single solid white line on the right edge of a state highway, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled today.

The 5-2 decision found that the trooper was wrong to pull over and charge Ryan Turner for committing a marked-lanes violation on Old State Route 74 in Clermont County in 2018 – a stop that led to a charge of operating a vehicle under the influence (OVI).

Writing for the Court majority, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy stated that Ohio’s manual for “traffic control devices,” such as signals and markings, only “discourages or prohibits crossing” a single solid white line on the right side edge of the roadway. It is not a violation if the car tire touches the line, she wrote.

Justices Judith L. French, R. Patrick DeWine, Michael P. Donnelly, and Melody J. Stewart joined Justice Kennedy’s opinion.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Patrick F. Fischer wrote the law unambiguously requires motorists to stay within the roadway lines. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor joined Justice Fischer’s dissent.

The Supreme Court’s decision reversed a split ruling by the Twelfth District Court of Appeals, which found the trooper was justified in making the stop because a vehicle is required to stay within the lines of a highway lane.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the Twelfth District Court of Appeals to consider the county prosecutor’s argument that the stop was valid because the trooper made a reasonable mistake in believing that Turner’s driving on the line was against the law.

Driver Stopped on Two-Lane Highway
The trooper stopped Turner on Old State Route 74, a two-way road with a single lane in each direction. Turner was cited for failing to drive within the marked lanes in violation of R.C. 4511.33, after the trooper observed the tires of Turner’s car touch the solid white line on the right edge of the roadway.

The lane in which Turner was traveling was marked in the center by a single solid yellow line with a single yellow broken line next to it. On both sides of Old State Route 74, a single solid white line was present, which the trooper described as a “fog line,” using an alternative name for an edge line.

As a result of stopping Turner, the officer then charged him with a violation of R.C. 4511.33 and OVI. Turner filed a motion to suppress the evidence in municipal court, arguing the trooper “did not have probable cause or reasonable and articulable suspicion to initiate the stop.”

The trial court concluded that an officer would not believe a one-time touch of the edge line, or fog line, would establish probable cause that Turner violated R.C. 4511.33(A)(1) and suppressed the evidence from the stop.

The Clermont County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office appealed to the Twelfth District, which reversed the decision. The appellate court noted, however, that its decision was in conflict with rulings by the First, Third, Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Eleventh District appeals courts. The Supreme Court agreed to accept the case to review the conflict.

The Supreme Court noted some of the cases from the other appellate courts did not concern a vehicle’s driving on or touching the fog line. Today’s opinion stated the Court’s holding does not address those cases.

Manual Explains Lane Markings
Justice Kennedy explained that to interpret the meaning of R.C. 4511.33(A)(1), the Court had to examine it in context with the “extensive statutory scheme” regulating motor vehicles operating on Ohio roads.

The Court noted that in R.C. 4511.09 the legislature authorizes the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to “adopt a manual for a uniform system of traffic control devices,” the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). ODOT also is authorized by the legislature in R.C. 4511.10 to “place and maintain traffic control devices” conforming to the ODOT manual on all Ohio highways as “necessary to indicate and carry out” the regulation of motor vehicles, including the requirements of R.C. 4511.33(A)(1). Because the legislature has given ODOT authority to regulate marked lanes of traffic, the MUTCD must be considered for guidance, the Court explained.

The ODOT manual gives each marking a specific meaning. The opinion noted that a white line marks either the separation of traffic flowing in the same direction or the right edge of the roadway. A yellow line marks the separation of traffic traveling in opposite directions, the left-side edge of the roadways of divided highways, or the separation of two-way left turn lanes. A solid line discourages or prohibits crossing.

R.C. 4511.33 explains the rules for driving in marked lanes. The Court explained the law has two components. It first establishes that clear markings on the roadway determine whether two or more lanes are present. The law then requires that “[a] vehicle … shall be driven, as nearly as is practicable, entirely within a single lane or line of traffic and shall not be moved from such lane or line until the driver has first ascertained that such movement can be made with safety.” The road markings in the ODOT manual define the bounds of the lanes for the purposes of R.C. 4511.33(A)(1).

The opinion stated the lane of Old State Route 74 that Turner was traveling when he was stopped by the officer was set by the yellow center lines and established a two-lane, two-way roadway. Under the ODOT manual, the only use of the single solid white line – the edge line or fog line – is to establish the right edge of the roadway.

“Therefore, because the single solid white longitudinal line as used on this two-lane, two-way roadway served only to mark the right-hand edge of the roadway and because that marking merely discourages or prohibits crossing it, not driving on it or touching it, Turner’s touching of the fog line was not in violation of R.C. 4511.33(A)(1),” the Court concluded.

The opinion stated that its decision is consistent with many of the Ohio appellate courts and with the majority of other states that have considered whether a motorist can legally touch or drive on a road’s lines.

Law Requires Staying Within Lanes, Dissent Stated
In his dissent, Justice Fischer stated the Court need not resort to the ODOT manual to interpret the law, but simply read the from the statute, which requires vehicles to stay within the lanes.

The dissent noted that a lane cannot be “clearly marked” if a painted line could be part of more than one lane. Because the markings separate the lanes, the lines establish the boundaries of the lanes, and in order to drive within a single lane, the driver must stay inside the inner edges of the lane lines.

“In other words, a driver may not drive on the lane lines,” the dissent stated.

2019-1674. State v. Turner, Slip Opinion No. 2020-Ohio-6773.

Video camera icon View oral argument video of this case.

Please note: Opinion summaries are prepared by the Office of Public Information for the general public and news media. Opinion summaries are not prepared for every opinion, but only for noteworthy cases. Opinion summaries are not to be considered as official headnotes or syllabi of court opinions. The full text of this and other court opinions are available online.

Adobe PDF PDF files may be viewed, printed, and searched using the free Acrobat® Reader
Acrobat Reader is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated.