How to Fight an Unsafe Lane Change Ticket

Have you been cited and given a ticket for an “unsafe lane change”? Do you feel the ticket is unwarranted? If you answered yes to either of these questions then this article is for you.

Quickly switching driving lanes is a common reason people get pulled over and ticketed. But often these citations are not as black and white as police officers may lead you to believe.

In the following article, we’ll define what is considered an unsafe driving behavior is and provide some practical steps if you feel like fighting your ticket. We’ll specifically discuss….

What is The Legal Definition of an Unsafe Lane Change?
4 Simple Steps For Fighting Your Ticket

Let’s get started….

What is The Legal Definition of an Unsafe Lane Change?

No two states have identical traffic laws, but generally, you’re going to find lane change laws stating something to this effect.

Whenever any roadway has been divided into two or more clearly marked lanes for traffic in one direction, the following rule applies: A vehicle shall be driven as nearly as practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until such movement can be made with reasonable safety.[1]

Vague sounding, right? Determining what’s “unsafe” has a lot to do with subjectivity, and it’s a much harder thing to agree on than concrete infractions such as speeding or ignoring traffic signals.

There are the obvious examples such as weaving recklessly or abruptly lurching left or right without signaling. But when you are cited for an unsafe driving this most likely has to do with violating what an individual officer views as reasonably “safe” not the breaking of some clear objective guideline.

In some cases, people have been cited for not properly head checking before changing lanes. But this is the exception, not the rule. Quickly changing your line of driving often cause accidents, and as such law enforcement officers (particularly highway patrol) take this offense seriously.

If this weren’t enough, research cited by Nasdaq [2] found that:

“Nearly half of all drivers either don’t signal to change lanes or fail to turn the indicator off if they do.”

If you’ve been cited you may be staring down a hefty fine and wondering what can be done about it? If you’re guilty it’s best to accept it, pay, and move on. But if you feel that you’ve been wrongly accused there are a few ways you can challenge it.

4 Simple Steps For Fighting Your Ticket

Challenging a ticket typically means physically going to a traffic court appearance. If you’ve never done this be aware that it can be a bit of a bureaucratic headache and courts have a tendency to side with law enforcement in he said/ she said situations.

If you still feel the need to contest your ticket, you can try any or all of the following tactics:

Step 1. Challenge the officer’s opinion

The case against you most likely hinges on an officer’s opinion of how you were driving. So do what you can to challenge it. Show up at your hearing and provide reasons why the officer was mistaken.

Examples of this could be: Given the road conditions (empty road, good weather, etc) at the time, your lane change was safe or that the police car was in front of your vehicle and the officer did not have a good view.

Step 2. Dispute the evidence.

The burden to prove your innocence is on you, so be prepared to show some evidence in support of your argument. These won’t be possible in every situation but an eyewitness statement, photos of the accident scene or a diagram all can go some distance toward overturning your fine. Similarly, if some type of video footage exists from a traffic or security camera this can help (or hurt) your case as well.

Step 3.You we’re reacting to other drivers.

State that your lane change was in response to another dangerous situation and ultimately aimed at preventing harm.

Perhaps, you were on the highway and semi truck unexpectedly lurched toward you and you may have reflexively changed lanes.

Ideally, a police officer would see and understand this context but if they didn’t don’t be shy in placing the blame where it belongs. On the driver of the semi-truck.

Another example could be the avoidance of a drunk driver. If you see someone driving erratically you should do just about anything you can to stay away from this including changing your driving lane abruptly — this is another argument that may hold some water in the eyes of the court.

Step 4. “Mistake of fact”.

In some scenarios, you will be allowed to present evidence that you should not be required to pay the ticket because you made a “mistake of fact”. Mistakes of facts are a certain type of extenuating circumstance and they are best understood through an example.


You are ticketed for an unsafe lane change but the road on which you were driving was old and the lane markings were so worn you didn’t see them. In fact, you didn’t even know you were making a lane change at the time. This would be a mistake of fact — and in some cases enough to sway a judge to waive your ticket.

Should You Hire a Lawyer?

For these type of driving tickets, hiring a traffic lawyer to defend you is unnecessary. The cost to hire a lawyer for speeding can cost between a few hundred and thousands of dollars. Overkill against you potentially paying a few hundred dollar in fines and possible insurance premium increases.

However, for more situations such as personal injuries or DUI accidents, you should of course hire an attorney to represent you.


Unsafe lane changes are problematic for two reasons, charging people with them is a relatively subjective matter and they are actually pretty common. If you’ve been unfairly accused of one and wish to contest it keep the following in mind:

    • Digging up the exact statute regarding lane changes in your state probably isn’t worthwhile. Just know that if a police officer deems your lane change to be “without reasonable caution” then you may be cited.
    • Fighting a driving ticket can be done various ways. Four common tactics: challenge the officer’s opinion, dispute with evidence, claim “mistake of fact” and argue that your actions were aimed to avoid harm.


1 – California Legislative Information
2 – Nasdaq

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