Constitutionality of a Traffic Stop for Center Brake Light Out in Maryland

Center brake light
A common reason a vehicle is pulled over and stopped by police is for having the center brake light out. Prior to the 1980’s cars did not have a center brake light, only the two rear brake lights on the left and right side. Today all vehicles are manufactured to have a third brake light in the center, usually mounted at the top or bottom of the rear window.

Maryland Transportation Article law on brake lights says two is ok
According to TA section 22-206(a)(1): Every motor vehicle registered in this State and sold as a new vehicle after June 1, 1967, shall be equipped with at least two stop lamps. There is no mention in the section on brake lights that mentions a requirement for a third operable brake light.

Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) says a vehicle must have three brake lights
However, COMAR clearly states that in order for a vehicle manufactured after 1985 to pass inspection there must be a center operable brake light in addition to the side brake lights.

What’s the right answer? Is a traffic stop unconstitutional if you have the center brake light out?
According to Maryland law, if the statute (Transportation Article) is in conflict with the regulations (COMAR), then the statute is controlling. So an argument can be made that the stop is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment since the statute does not specifically allow an officer to stop for this, and the statute should trump the regulation. However, some judges will agree with the prosecutor that the officer can issue a repair order for a center brake light out and thus make a valid traffic stop for the purpose of writing the repair order. This is one of those issues where the law is not clear-cut. Having an experienced traffic and criminal defense attorney to argue that the stop was not valid can be invaluable for this type of case, since it could go either way.

For a free consultation regarding a traffic or criminal case based on a center brake light stop, or any other reason, contact the Law Offices of Christopher Peretti at 301-875-3472.

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