After much debate within the district courts, on October 10, 2019, the Supreme Judicial Court announced that a fog line constitutes a marked lane for the purposes of motor vehicle stop for a marked lanes violation in accordance with G. L. c. 89, § 4A, a civil motor vehicle infraction. In Commonwealth v. Larose, the Court analyzed whether a police officer’s stop of the defendant’s motor vehicle after observing the vehicle crossing a fog line constituted a marked lane violation, and whether the resulting stop was reasonable, and valid, under article 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Ultimately, the Court concluded that because a fog line “delineate[s] the right or left edges of a roadway,” the fog line constitutes a marked lane, thereby permitting a police officer to stop a motorist for unsafely crossing a fog line in violation of the law.
In this case, the defendant was operating a motor vehicle when he was pulled over for crossing the right-side fog line “one time for two or three seconds.” After being stopped, he was suspected and arrested for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of intoxicating liquor. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the stop, arguing that the defendant had not committed in a marked lanes violation by crossing the fog line because the fog line does not delineate a lane of travel, and, therefore, the motor vehicle stop by the police was made without probable cause. If the motion to suppress the stop was allowed by the Court, then the defendant could no longer be consequently charged with operating a motor vehicle of intoxicating liquor if the initial traffic stop was not valid. A Superior Court judge allowed the defendant’s motion, and the Appeals Court reversed the decision, and then it went to the Supreme Judicial Court for further appellate review.
On October 10, 2019, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that the defendant both failed to operate his motor vehicle entirely within his lane of travel by crossing the fog line and moved from his lane of travel without first ascertaining the safety of that movement, the defendant committed a marked lanes violation and therefore the traffic stop was reasonable. The Court analyzed the marked lanes statute, G. L. c. 89, § 4A, which states, “[w]hen any way has been divided into lanes, the driver of a vehicle shall so drive that the vehicle shall be entirely within a single lane, and he shall not move from the lane in which he is driving until he has first ascertained if such movement can be made with safety.” The statute requires that two prongs be met before a violation can be found. The first prong requires a showing that the motorist moved outside of his marked lane of travel. The second prong requires a showing that when the motorist moved outside of the marked lane of travel, that it was unsafe to do so or that the motorist failed to assess the safety of his movement.
The main issue in Larose was whether crossing a fog line constitutes a marked lane of travel. The Court disagreed with the defendant’s position that § 4A prohibits the crossing of pavement markings that separate only lanes of traffic. The Court found that the plain language of the statute that a motorist remain “entirely within” a single lane when describing a motor vehicle’s position necessarily implies that a lane is bounded on either side and that it is impermissible to deviate from those boundaries. The Court went on to hold that a fog line clearly demarcates an edge of travel, as supported by applicable highway regulations, and the Department of Transportation roadway definitions. “[A] fog line does not merely alert drivers to the edge of the travel lane. Rather, it marks the right-hand edge of the travel lane and serves to separate the travel lane from the road shoulder.” Accordingly, the Court ordered that the motion to suppress the stop should have been denied, as the unsafe crossing of the fog line constitutes a marked lanes violation providing the police officer with probable cause to stop the defendant.