Avoiding Traffic Stops – New Minnesota Laws

Another year, another truckload of new laws – the usual, right?  How does that affect you?  For the most part, hopefully it doesn’t. 

But when you consider the fact that most criminal law problems – large and small – start as vehicle traffic stops; it pays to be aware of new laws allowing police to stop you.  Some of these went into effect June, July and some August 1, 2009.  All represent an expansion of government power and a reduction of your liberty and freedom.  

 Do you remember several years ago when advocates of another law to mandate seat-belt use upon penalty of a petty misdemeanor fine, reassured us “don’t worry, we will never ask for a primary seat belt law;”  How long is “never,” again?  Not that long, it seems.  

It starts with a traffic stop...

It starts with a traffic stop...

Police now can stop you for merely not wearing a Seat-belt in Minnesota.A “primary violation” seat belt law gives police the legal right to stop a vehicle if someone in the vehicle appears to not wear a seat belt.  The previous version of the seat belt law did not allow traffic stops solely for the appearance of not wearing a seat belt.  This year’s law does.  The law eliminates personal choice, and personal responsibility.  It hands over more responsibility and more power to the government, taking it away form the individual.  It reduces the need for people to educate themselves, be responsible for themselves, and develop a personal moral code.  It reduces your freedom.  As usual, they claim sacrificing your freedom is worth it – for your own good. 

The new “primary” seat belt violation law increases the potential for stops and arrests resulting from racial profiling.  Racial profiling is a real problem – difficult to solve.  Though police generally don’t view themselves as racist (few people do), they are no different from the rest of us, and are no more perfect in relation to racial stereotyping and its effects.  We know that when it comes to race, there is a disparate impact upon people identifiable as part of a racial minority group that can only be explained by race.  Creating more opportunities for police to stop people for petty, technical violations inevitably leads a worsening of the racial profiling problem.

Social control by force – by law enforcement – is corrosive to our culture and our youth.  Why learn responsibility as an individual if the government allows you little of it, and controls ever smaller aspects of your life – year after year, law after law?  This seat belt law gives law enforcement yet another reason to pull someone over, and to find another, bigger reason to interfere with your life.

Expansion of Child Seat law.

Under the new law, children in a motor vehicle must now be in a child passenger restraint system until their eighth birthday or they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall.  Of course, this is yet another reason for police to stop you if it appears you might be in violation of this.

Global Positioning Systems on Windshield .

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) can now lawfully be mounted or located near the bottommost part of a vehicle’s windshield.  Previously, anything mounted on the front or rear windshield put the driver at risk of a traffic stop by police.  The “obstructed windshield” statute, used by police ot justify such traffic stops, does have some language about obstruction to the drivers view – yet, it gave police the legal excuse to stop someone if there was anything on the windshield, or between the windshield and the driver.  These have included RADAR detectors (otherwise legal), notepads stuck to the windshield, air fresheners or other items hanging from the rearview mirror, and the like – in addition to GPS units mounted to the windshield.  At least now there is an exception for GPS units mounted to the lowest portion of the windshield.  Presumably in that location, the driver’s view will not be impeded.

What about a RADAR detector?  Prudence might argue for a newer RADAR detector with a GPS unit incorporated in the same unit.  That – or don’t mount it to the windshield.  (See, Speeding Laws in Minnesota for a discussion of MN speed law.)

Tips for Avoiding Traffic Stops.

Other than changing your race, age, car, etc., how can you minimize your risk of a traffic stop?  Of course, obeying the traffic laws seems obvious.  But what about all of the technicalities the police can use to either ruin your day, or ruin your life?  Here’s a list of a few:  

  1. Avoid placing any decals of any kind on your front or rear windshield, even where instructed to do so by a government agency.  Instead, place them on a side window, where necessary. 
  2. Make sure there are no cracks in your windshields.  In winter, make sure they are free of ice and snow.
  3. Avoid hanging items from your rear view mirror, like air fresheners.  Place them below the windshield level.  Avoid hanging anything from sun visors.
  4. Make sure all of your lights, brake lights, turn and lane change indicator lights, as well as license plate illumination light – are all working.
  5. Make sure your vehicle is displaying proper license plate or other registration evidence.
  6. Make sure your vehicle’s suspension, alignment and steering are good enough that your vehicle does not weave.
  7. Avoid tinted glass police may view as illegal.  (And work on changing this law.)

Given the plethora of overreaching laws already in existence, it has never been more important to prevent police from violating your privacy and liberty interests.  Traffic stops are the narrow end of the wedge the government can drive into you and your life, to hurt or destroy you.  Every police contact creates a risk of a life-altering criminal charge – innocent or not.  Every smart citizen should strive to avoid these police contacts in the first place.

FFI: Author, Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer.

11 responses to “Avoiding Traffic Stops – New Minnesota Laws

  1. are head light covers illegal to have on your head lights during the day in Minnesota

    • Minnesota Statutes Sections 169.47 through 169.79 contain numerous requirements for lighting on motor vehicles, and also authorize the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety agency to develop requirements for vehicle lighting. After a quick scan of the Statutes, I did not notice a provision specifically prohibiting headlight covers during the day. The statutory provisions do contain general requirements about using headlamps in rain, fog, etc. during the day, avoiding unsafe equipment, performance parameters for headlamps, etc. I did not review Minnesota Rules for the Department of Public Safety at all, but you can read them online from the Minnesota legislature’s website or via a link at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s website. I imagine a cop could try to interpret a more general statute in an unfriendly way, if they had a strong desire to do so. Whether that would fly in court might depend upon several factors.

  2. Speaking of blocking your vision, I’ve never understood why a handicap tag hanging from the rear view mirror wasn’t enough to warrant being stopped. The tag states right on it not to hang it while driving. Why isn’t that ever enforced? I have no idea if this is specifically covered under a statute or not, or is it just because everyone is so frightened of being sued for discrimination? It should be a valid defense to discriminate based on suspicion of stupidity.

    As for the so called child seat law expansion, more accurately referred to as: racketeering by the makers and marketers of child seats just to further the economic burden on people with children; I refuse as a matter of principal. If I actually thought my child would be safer I would conform, but I don’t and I refuse to force my 7 year old to sit in a car seat. What will be next? Forced use of helmets in a vehicle? Sounds really stupid doesn’t it, but so did forced seat belt use 5 or 10 years ago……..

    • Police stopping vehicles for something hanging from the rear view mirror – in my experience – happens as a pretext during the times and days people are most likely to have been drinking. Handicap parking tags are not exempt from the abstracted windshield law. Though I have not had a case with that as the reason for stop yet, I have little doubt that it has happened – probably between 10:00 pm on a Friday and 3:00 am on a Sunday.

      I agree the child seat law is bad one. Like me as a child, my kids are quite tall and don’t need a booster seat as long as others do. But the bigger issue is extreme micromanagement of individual lives under the threat of law (implied threat of violence by the government) with the excuse of “your safety.” Freedom means the individual has the right to make the “wrong” choice. Liberty means I can do what I like. Yes, there are reasonable limits on Liberty, but any law telling us that the government knows better than we do what is good for us is per se an unreasonable infringement on individual Liberty. Resisting these laws seems noble to me.

  3. I was waiting on a notification from state reguarding a suspension of my license
    I was stopped for seat belt . Even though i was wearing it .
    he asked for my insurance info. discovered i wasnt insured. my citation shows insurance no proof of, regestration-cancelled/stolen/revoked plates
    Driveing after suspension was crossed out with revocation in its place.
    I got my work permit 5 days later and 2 months later got my license back when my suspension time was up.
    that statute was changed allowing a person to be stopped but also says
    a peace officer may not issue a citation unless the officer lawfully stopped a motor vehicle for a moveing violation.
    I dont see a moveing violation here accept where he changed my suspension to revoked. Am i wrong?

  4. I agree with a lot of what this article says. I don’t agree with wearing a seatbelt being about making a personal choice. Someone without a seatbelt could potentially harm someone else while either being thrown around the cabin, or , in an extreme case, being thrown from the vehicle and putting other motorists at risk.

  5. Hello Thomas!
    I live in Minneapolis, I got a ticket I have been trying to fight for having a small cross hanging on my rear view mirror and it was during rush hour in the City of Plymouth. $135.00 fee
    He stopped me at a busy Blvd at rush hour, had me drive backwards about a half a block into an office building which had an incline and people leaving work.
    Once, I was in this private parking, he had me wait in my car for about 10 minutes before approached my car and asked: “Did you miss your turn back there, granted this is like 3 blocks down from where I had made a right hand turn, when I saw the lights, I pulled over thinking he was after someone else.
    I got a copy of the ticket comments the police had written and he said, I had turned the corner too fast. I said: “NO? WHY? I did have my signals and I knew I was making a turn!” Then he asked for my license when I handed it to him, he leaned into my car, looked at the cross in my rear view mirror and with his racist twang asked me if I knew that Minne soooo ta has a law prohibiting anything hanging from the rear view mirror? I had no idea there was such a law!
    As soon as he told me about the law I proceeded to remove the cross, by the time he left back to his car, the cross was gone. The officer returned with a ticket. He told me to call the number below to take care of it.
    I, Naively said: “I took care of it!” And he again with a smile on his face an racist, cynical voice said: “OH NOOOOO!” There is a “FEE” associated with this!
    This will be my third time back to court. The first two times the prosecutor has threatened me with more charges. To add charges for turning the corner too fast. I pray the Judge will do the right thing, otherwise my trust in the justice system is done.
    These badge heavy morons are a police dept. worse enemies, they undermine public trust in the community in my view.
    You have no idea how indignant I feel.

  6. I just got pulled over and i have lettering on my windshield and it is a inch above my rear view mirror and was told it was against the law but GPS units and handicap stickers are not what a law

  7. MN Statue 169.64 Subd. 10:”…it is prohibited for any person to: (1) equip a motor vehicle with any equipment or material that covers a headlamp, tail lamp or reflector…” I was stopped and ticketed for this, even though it was in the middle of the day (no rain, no snow, etc.). Fought it all the way to court, my argument was vehicle licensed in another state (where it is legal). MN judicial system still wanted my donation. Somehow this just doesn’t seem to be a “public safety” requirement. :-(

  8. FREEDOM

    People can have freedom to choose not to wear a seat belt to the extent they sign a waiver to all insurance benefits and forgo all rights to sue (and their family members rights to sue) as a result of their injury or death in an accident. The decision to not wear a seatbelt means additional costs OTHERS have to bear if something happens. I’m all about freedom… But not when others have to bear the cost of the freedoms I choose to exercise… Especially when it is something as simple as pulling a belt across my lap.

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