Using the “MUTCD Technicality” to Beat a Traffic Ticket

Written by Gregory Monte.


I Love “Technicalities”

I write a lot of blog posts about using “technicalities” to beat traffic tickets.  You can go to the archives section of my blog page if you want to see the whole list of articles related to this topic. 

When I use the term “technicality,” I have in mind one particular definition of the word:

“a petty formal point arising from a strict interpretation of rules”

Yes, that is right – I admit it.  I spend my time finding “petty” points in the law that people can possibly use to beat their traffic tickets. 

But you know what?  I not only admit this, I fully embrace it and am proud of it.


My Original Blog Post About MUTCD “Technicalities”

Anyway, back in June I wrote a post (Ticket for a Nonconforming Traffic Sign/Signal?) which described one way how the “technicalities” in the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) can be used in this regard.  Here is how I started out that post:

One of the best ways to beat a ticket is to show that the traffic-control device you were accused of violating was not installed/placed in conformance with the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)

The MUTCD covers common violations like speeding and stop signs, but it also applies to other citations if they involve a traffic sign or signal of any kind (red lights, no turn on red, school zone, left turn on green arrow only, etc.).

My son beat his traffic ticket in Pennsylvania by referencing PA state law and the MUTCD.  In his case, the stop sign he was accused of violating was not placed “as close as practical to the intersection” as required by the MUTCD.  If you are interested in the details about how he did this, I wrote a 23-page eBook How My Son Beat an Unfair Stop Sign Ticket in Pennsylvania which explains it all.


The Multi-Way Stop Sign “Technicality”

Which brings me to yet another possible way to use the MUTCD to fight your ticket – the special rules for stop signs at multi-way intersections.

Even though I will be specifically referring to Pennsylvania in my analysis, is important to realize that this advice applies to many other states also.  Not only has the MUTCD been universally adopted in some form or other by each and every state, many of them also have laws (similar to the ones in Pennsylvania) which suggest that stop signs not in compliance with the MUTCD are not enforceable.

Here is what MUTCD 2B.05 says:

“The ALL WAY plaque shall only be used if all intersection approaches are controlled by STOP signs.  Supplemental plaques with legends such as 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, or other numbers of ways shall not be used with stop signs.”

Notice the picture that I chose for this blog post.  It shows a stop sign that is in clear violation of the MUTCD.


Using this MUTCD “Technicality” in Court

How can you use this information to contest your ticket?

Many states have a section in their motor vehicle codes similar to Pennsylvania’s PA Title 75, Section 3111(d) Presumption of Proper Device:

Any official traffic-control device placed or held pursuant to the provisions of this title and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices shall be presumed to comply with the requirements of this title, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.”

A stop sign placed in violation of the MUTCD is, by definition, not “placed or held pursuant to the provisions of this title” because the Title requires adherence to the MUTCD.

In court you would be able to provide the “competent evidence” necessary – a quote from the MUTCD – to show that it does not “comply with the requirements of this title.”

Furthermore, Pennsylvania’s Title 75 Section 3111(a) says that:

“the driver of any vehicle shall obey the instructions of any applicable official traffic-control device placed or held in accordance with the provision of this title

If the stop sign is in violation of the MUTCD – and so it is NOT “placed or held in accordance with the provision of this title” – this section implies that you don’t have to obey it.  It sounds crazy, I know, but this is a great example of the “petty” points in the law that can potentially be exploited.


A Potential Caveat … But Probably Not

Will these types of arguments be enough to win your case?  Maybe, but the judge could possibly tell you that because the stop sign mostly conforms to the Title, it is legal and enforceable.  He might be able to say this because Title 75 Section 3111(c) also states the following:

“Whenever official traffic-control devices are placed or held in position approximately conforming to the requirements of this title the devices shall be presumed to have been so placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.  …”

Notice the term “approximately conforming.”

In my opinion, you shouldn’t be all too worried about this argument.  The way I see it, this part of the law only refers to the PLACEMENT of the sign by official authority.  It does not refer to the MUTCD requirements about the actual stop sign, itself.

So, if you are like me and you don’t like paying silly tickets, you might want to use this information in the courtroom to support your case.  I know for sure that I would do it.


Applicability to Other States (New York Example)

This last part of my post is not comprehensive in any sense.  I decided to put it in here just so you would get an idea about how my analysis would apply to other states with similar laws.  For example, New York’s Section 1110(c) and (d) are almost identical to Pennsylvania’s Title 75 Section 3111(c) and (d):

“(c) Whenever official traffic-control devices are placed in position approximately conforming to the requirements of this chapter, such devices shall be presumed to have been so placed by the official act or direction of lawful authority, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.”

“(d) Any official traffic-control device placed pursuant to the provisions of this chapter and purporting to conform to the lawful requirements pertaining to such devices shall be presumed to comply with the requirements of this chapter, unless the contrary shall be established by competent evidence.”

4 thoughts on “Using the “MUTCD Technicality” to Beat a Traffic Ticket

  1. On the matter of a sign being presumed to be placed “approximately” and by an “authority,” it should be remembered individuals otherwise considered authorities are found “to be acting outside their scope of authority” every day.

    In short, if the law say one thing and the agent acts in conflict with it, they step away from their authority and the protections it brings. Were it otherwise, we would not read judicial reviews about those so often claimed to have absolute judicial immunity suffering penalties, such as being removed from the bench.

    Like

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