This is a 3-part series, in “Top 5” format, on observations of driving and traffic, an aspect of daily life that you cannot escape in most every part of the civilized world.
Part I of this serious looked at Dangerous Driving Habits and Part II examined some of my worse enemies on the highway. Part III concludes the series (before it runs out of gas?) with more of a look at the obscure violations on the road.
As a former police officer turned lawyer, there are some bad habits that are hard to break. Too much coffee, for instance. One of the worst of those habits that remains with me some 15 years now off the job — constantly scanning traffic around me for violations.
It’s almost part of my subconscious. It’s a curse. I cannot help it. I guess the good part is it keeps me focused on the vehicles around me and my mind actively posed to engage “defensive driving” in times of need. It seems to be working, as I’ve never been in an accident or received a ticket in my 25 years of driving [knock on fake wood car-door paneling].
Here is my list of Top 5 Traffic Violations You Didn’t Know Were Illegal. In other words, these are some of those violations, whether inherently dangerous or not, that are traffic violations in my home state of Illinois (your jurisdiction may vary).
- No headlights (and not just parking lights) on when windshield wipers are in use or between sunset and sunrise (625 ILCS 5/12-201). – Wipers on = Lights on. Turn them on whether conditions (rain, snow, fog, or other atmospheric conditions) require the use of windshield wipers or any other times when you need to be seen due to insufficient light or unfavorable atmospheric conditions.
- Having a plastic cover over your license plates. – The leading reason I’ve heard for this law is that such covers, even clear ones, can be used to block tollway, red light, speed, and other authorized cameras with flash photography. See 625 ILCS 5/3-413. In fact, even the sale of plate covers is illegal in Illinois (but walk into many stores from Target to CVS to auto stores and you still find them offered for sale).
- Windshield obstruction. – Those fuzzy dice, graduation tassels and baby shoes hanging from rear view mirror used to be a favorite violation of cops to institute a traffic stop when desired. 625 ILCS 5/12-503. But like I tell my students and even argue in court when statutory interpretation is at issue: “Words matter.” For example, the Illinois statute includes the following language: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle with any objects placed or suspended between the driver and the front windshield, rear window, side wings or side windows immediately adjacent to each side of the driver which materially obstructs the driver’s view.” [Emphasis added.] This was the very issue in People v. Cole, 874 N.E.2d 81, 369 Ill. App.3d 960 (Ill. App., 2007) where an Illinois appellate court overturned a major drug conviction from a traffic stop that was not justified due to “a single strand of beads hanging from a rearview mirror at a driver’s eye level.” The obstruction was not material.
- License plate not illuminated. – It seems to be a common violation I see all the time. While it may be easy to let a burned out plate light go unchanged, it can pose a serious safety concern if the plate cannot be properly read by law enforcement. For example, take the Texas case of an officer incorrectly keying in a plate as 696BGK instead of correct 695BGK, matching stolen car of same make and color. The misunderstanding escalated to shots fired by the officer in a disputed use of force case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court (Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. _ (2014)).
- License plate blocked by tow hitch. – Similar to the windshield obstruction, this law has been the debate of recent courts opinions as to whether a ball hitch partially blocking the plate is within the definition of “obstructing the visibility of a vehicle’s registration plate.” An appellate court said no, and the Illinois Supreme Court overruled it with the justification that “it was objectively reasonable for the officers to have believed that the trailer hitch was in violation” and that the statute is ambiguous, in need of a legislative fix (People v. Gaytan, 2015 IL 116223). Again, I find this to be a potentially serious safety concern if law enforcement cannot determine the correct plate letters and/or numbers, leaving room for mistaken or limited information to be related to dispatch.
What other obscure traffic violations did I leave off my Top 5?
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