Vehicle crossing over a lane once by two tire widths not a traffic violation justifying seizure by law enforcement

State v. Tonelli-Prado, Washington Court of Appeals, Division I, filed July 7, 2008.

Mr. Tonelli Prado was stopped as he was exiting I-5 at James Street in Seattle, WA. The police officer had observed Mr. Tonelli Prado’s car cross an 8 inch white line dividing the exit lane from the adjacent lane by approximately 2 tire widths for 1 second. Mr. Tonelli Prado was investigated and arrested for driving under the influence of intoxicants. Mr. Tonelli Prado’s motion to suppress for an unlawful seizure was denied, he was convicted, and he appealed.

The Court of Appeals analyzed RCW 46.61.140(1), which states that whenever a roadway has been divided into two or more marked lanes, a vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane. Because no Washington court had interpreted the phrase “as nearly as practicable,” the Court of Appeals looked to other states. Arizona has a similarly worded statute and in State v. Livingston, 206 Ariz. 145, 75 P.3d 1103 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2003), the Court held that “as nearly as practicable” indicated a legislative intent to avoid penalizing brief, momentary, and minor deviations of lane lines. There was no other violation other than Mr. Tonelli Prado’s brief incursion over the lane line, as in Livingston.

The Court held that RCW 46.61.140(1)’s use of “as nearly as practicable” demonstrates a recognition that brief incursions over the lane lines will happen. The Court held that a vehicle crossing over the line for one second by two tire widths on an exit lane does not justify a belief that the vehicle was operated unlawfully; therefore, the stop was unlawful and all evidence gained as a result should have been suppressed.