When to Use Turn Signal in North Carolina

by | Oct 1, 2019 | Blog Posts, NC Traffic

This blog explains when North Carolina law requires drivers to use a turn signal. According to the North Carolina Statute G.S. 20 – 154 (a), a turn signal is only required if a pedestrian or the operation of any other vehicle may be affected. In North Carolina, violation of this statute is typically referred to as “unsafe movement.” This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice and counsel of a traffic lawyer.

N.C.G.S. 20 – 154 (a) states as follows: “The driver of any vehicle upon a highway or public vehicular area before starting, stopping or turning from a direct line shall first see that such movement can be made in safety, and if any pedestrian may be affected by such movement shall give a clearly audible signal by sounding the horn, and whenever the operation of any other vehicle may be affected by such movement, shall give a signal as required in this section, plainly visible to the driver of such other vehicle, of the intention to make such movement. The driver of a vehicle shall not back the same unless such movement can be made with safety and without interfering with other traffic.”

 What happens if I’m in a right turn only lane? Is a signal required?

No. In a lane where a turn is not optional, such as a right turn only lane, a turn signal is not required because the vehicle following should know that any other vehicle in that lane will be making a turn.

Penalty for violating this statute

Failure to use a turn signal when required (oftentimes called “unsafe movement”) is an infraction. Because it is a moving violation, both license and insurance points will be assessed.

 Example of when a turn signal is required:

State v Style, 362. N.C. 412 (2008)

  • In this case, Style changed lanes immediately in front of Officer Jones’ patrol car which violated N.C statute G.S. 20 – 154 (a)

“The trial court found that at the time defendant’s vehicle changed lanes without a signal, “it was being operated by the defendant immediately in front of Officer Jones’ patrol vehicle”

“ This finding of fact indicates that defendant’s failure to signal violated N.C.G.S. 20 – 154 (a), because it is clear that changing lanes immediately in front of another vehicle may affect the operation of the trailing vehicle.”

Example of when a turn signal is not required:

  • State v. Watkins, 725 SE 2d 400
  • Watkins changed lanes three to four car lengths ahead of the vehicle behind him which would not make it clear if the vehicle would be affected.
    • “Here, the State’s evidence established the officers were following three to four car lengths behind defendant’s vehicle when he changed lanes. While Officer Brooks testified that shortly after the stop there was “heavy traffic” on the road with “a lot of vehicles going by,” there are insufficient facts in the record to determine whether the lane change may have affected another. Indeed, the officers only issued defendant a warning ticket for “`conduct constituting a potential hazard to the motoring public which does not amount to a clear-cut, substantial violation of the motor vehicle laws.'”

If you have been charged with unsafe movement or another traffic offense in North Carolina and wish to hire a traffic lawyer, contact us.

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