Most of us are familiar with that sinking feeling you experience when the glow of police lights appears in your rear-view mirror. “I hope they’re after someone in front of me,” you mutter unselfishly. But nope, they’re after you.

Maybe you know exactly why you’re being pulled over (oh, is this not an 80-mph zone?), or maybe you’re sure this is a case of mistaken identity. Either way, after the officer explains that he watched you make an unsafe lane change, you’re eventually going to wonder, “Can I fight it?” The answer is yes, although your odds of success will depend on the circumstances and your preparation.

Research the Traffic Law

It’s often tough to fight a traffic ticket when it comes down to your word against the officer’s. But the more evidence you have, and the more you prepare, the better your chances are for convincing a judge to go easy. It’s smart to research the exact traffic law you’re accused of breaking. That, and the officer’s notes on the ticket, can help guide you in figuring out what to contest.

For example, California’s vehicle code reads, in relevant part, “Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic in one direction…[a] vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practical entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until such movement can be made with reasonable safety.”

Ticket-Fighting Strategies

As you consider whether or not to fight your unsafe lane change ticket, consider these ticket-fighting strategies to see if any are applicable to the facts of your situation.

  • Dispute the Officer’s Personal Opinion: Since the wording of the violation often uses terms like “reasonable safety,” you can dispute the officer’s subjective judgment about the safety of your lane change. For example, maybe the lane change was safe given weather and traffic conditions at the time.
  • Dispute the Officer’s Evidence: Most people drive extra cautiously when the police are nearby, so officers often have to remain at some distance in order to witness a violation. You may be able to challenge the officer’s account of what happened by pointing out how far away he or she was when they witnessed your alleged violation. Perhaps they were too far away to see that your lane change was safe given the conditions immediately around you.
  • Explain Why Your Actions Were Justified: There are many reasons why you might have to make what appears to be an unsafe lane change. Maybe you needed to avoid being hit by someone swerving into your lane from the opposite direction. Or perhaps you had to swerve into the next lane to avoid hitting a pedestrian that stumbled onto the road.

In any case, come prepared with diagrams and eye witness testimony if at all possible. The more evidence you have to explain why your lane change was safe given the conditions, the better.

If you need help contesting an unsafe lane change ticket, consider contacting an attorney with experience fighting traffic law violations.

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