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Stupid Stops

By Randall Grantham Community Columnist June 7, 2024

One foot on the brake and one on the gas, hey
Well, there's too much traffic, I can't pass, no
So I tried my best illegal move
A big black and white come and crushed my groove again.
Sammy Hagar

Sometimes I am amazed at how oblivious some people are when they are on the highways..  As a criminal defense lawyer, I represent people who are charged with crimes and it’s always interesting to see how they got caught. In my experience, the vast majority of  people get caught by not paying attention.

Like running a red light right in front of a cop.  While they’re smoking a joint!

That takes oblivion to a new level.

But there are many things that most all of us do on the road that can give a cop legal grounds to stop you if they want to check you out.

There is a case on the books where the judge said, if they follow anyone long enough, a traffic infraction will be observed as no one drives perfectly all of the time.

But there are certain traffic laws on the books that just seem to be more frequently used to make a stop that perhaps shouldn’t, logically, be made.  No real public safety issue concerned.

For instance, the obvious one is burnt out tag light!  Those really get me.  I can’t tell you how many people I have represented whose tag light was out and they got stopped and arrested for DUI, or possession, or because their license expired last week.

And it’s not like the lack of a tag light poses any risk to the public.  Hell, license tags are reflective. Even unlit, they can be seen at night because cop cars have headlights.  It’s just a good excuse to make a traffic stop and see what they can see. 

And who do you know that EVER checks to see if their tag light is working?

Then there’s failure to maintain a single lane.  As you drive down the road, whether you’re adjusting the A/C, tuning the radio or even reaching over your shoulder for the safety belt, you may not stay right in the center of your lane of travel.  Maybe you just touch the lane divider with your tire.  If the cop behind you has been watching you and you’re one of those long hair types, or have too many tattoos, or it’s a little past your bedtime, he (or she) might just decide to light you up to see what they can see.

Another one of cops’ favorites is a “stop bar violation”.  Everybody knows you have to come to a “full and complete” stop at the stop sign or red light.   But where, exactly, you come to a full and complete stop can be a violation that will support a traffic stop.

The big white painted line on the pavement at most intersections is the “stop bar”.  In most cases you must stop before going over the stop bar, even though it may be well in front of the stop sign and you can’t even see oncoming traffic from back there.. Even the smallest overlap of your car on the stop bar could get you stopped (in a bad way).  Not even your bumper is allowed to hang over that strip of paint. 

That must be one of their favorite excuses to stop people they’ve been keeping an eye on and think perhaps they’ll catch with some non-medicinal weed.

Seatbelts are another one.  It used to be that you could not be stopped for just the failure to have your seatbelt on. It was a “secondary” offense and there had to be another reason to stop you for them to ticket that. Then law enforcement types started saying that “it is a matter of public safety. We need to be able to stop people for that even if they are obeying every other law on the books.

It’s for their own good.”

First of all, I have my doubts about whether they can even tell if you have a seatbelt on.

Secondly, I would wager that the vast majority of such stops are what we call “pretextual” stops. Done as an excuse for the cops to stop your car because they think you’re doing something bad, but they have no proof of that. So the stop is made to try to find some.

And it is not just limited to “streets and highways”.  It is anywhere in the state.  Parking lots, driveways, even in cow pastures and fields, you’ve got to wear your seatbelt.

I had a client a while back who the cops had spotted leaving a house they thought was occupied by a dealer.  He went to the grocery store and bought his dinner and, as he got back in the car and started to back out of his parking space in the store’s parking lot, he didn’t get his seatbelt on quick enough. 

He drew the “Go To Jail” card and had to hire me.

Maybe the stop is made and nothing is found and the driver is given a warning.  But for Pete’s sake, if you are one of my potential clients, stop at the stop bar, check your tag light before couriering anything, and wear your seatbelt.

Getting pulled over is like falling down - Nothing good can come of it.