Just How “Technical” are Traffic Law Technicalities?

Written by Gregory Monte.

As I have written in many previous blog posts, I love technicalities in the traffic laws – the “petty formal points arising from a strict interpretation of rules.”  I spend a lot of time reading motor vehicle codes to find them in order to suggest ways to beat traffic tickets.  For example, check out one of my more recent posts about this topic: Using the “MUTCD Technicality” to Beat a Traffic Ticket

Unfortunately, technicalities can also be used against a defendant in court.  Today’s post is going to show how technicalities in that same Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) can work against you.

Its All About the Wording – “Shall” vs. “Should”

When a MUTCD regulation uses the term “should,” you can’t use this particular regulation to claim that the ticket you got was illegitimate.

For example, MUTCD Section 2B.07 Multi-Way Stop Applications states:

“The decision to install multi-way stop control should be based on an engineering study.”

No stop sign at any intersection requires an engineering study – the law is clear about this.

But now consider the language of MUTCD Section 2B.13 Speed Limit Sign (R2-1):

“Speed zones (other than statutory speed limits) shall only be established on the basis of an engineering study that has been performed in accordance with traffic engineering practices. The engineering study shall include an analysis of the current speed distribution of free-flowing vehicles.”

In this case, your speeding ticket will be dismissed if you can show that no engineering study was performed (or if it was done incorrectly).

The MUTCD is the “Bible” for Fighting Traffic Tickets

The MUTCD is the go-to book if you are looking to contest a traffic ticket.  Just make sure that you pay attention to the words used in the regulation you are interested in.  There is a big difference between a Standard and Guidance.

As the Manual, itself, states in Section 1A.13:

“Standard—a statement of required, mandatory, or specifically prohibitive practice regarding a traffic control device. All Standard statements are labeled, and the text appears in bold type. The verb “shall” is typically used. The verbs “should” and “may” are not used in Standard statements. Standard statements are sometimes modified by Options.”

“Guidance—a statement of recommended, but not mandatory, practice in typical situations, with deviations allowed if engineering judgment or engineering study indicates the deviation to be appropriate. All Guidance statements are labeled, and the text appears in unbold type. The verb “should” is typically used. The verbs “shall” and “may” are not used in Guidance statements. Guidance statements are sometimes modified by Options.”

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