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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > March 2013 > State v. Dean, Fifth District Court of Appeals, Feb. 1, 2013

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State v. Dean, Fifth District Court of Appeals, Feb. 1, 2013

Question: May a peace officer make a traffic stop for a vehicle that is traveling at a slow speed? 
Quick Answer: No, not unless the vehicle is impeding the flow of traffic or posing a danger on the road.

Facts: About 1 a.m., a police officer noticed a car driving at least 15 mph slower than the posted speed limits. The officer followed the car for a mile and noted that it traveled at a consistently slow speed, signaled to make a turn hundreds of yards ahead of the actual turn, and turned very slowly. The officer stopped the vehicle for slow speed and, from his interactions with the driver, Alan Dean, the officer determined that Dean was operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol. Dean later moved to suppress based on a lack of reasonable suspicion to make the traffic stop.
Why this case is important: The court held that slow speed, on its own, isn’t reasonable suspicion to justify making a traffic stop. It’s also not a traffic violation under the Ohio Revised Code’s Sec. 4511.22(A) unless the speed is so unreasonably slow that it impedes or blocks traffic or creates a safety risk on the road. However, each case depends on the totality of the circumstances. Here, traveling at 15 mph below the speed limit wasn’t impeding traffic, so the officer had no legal justification to make the traffic stop.
Keep in mind: Although very slow driving may seem suspicious, especially in the early morning hours, you’ll need more evidence that criminal activity or a traffic violation is afoot before you can legally pull someone over. In this case, the officer based the traffic stop on only a hunch of wrongdoing, which violates the Fourth Amendment.
Visit the Ohio Supreme Court’s website to view the entire opinion.