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.
Liberty lost, in the name of a good cause
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.
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 from 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 bottom-most 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 to 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 rear-view 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 and defense.)
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:
- 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.
- Make sure there are no cracks in your windshields. In winter, make sure they are free of ice and snow.
- Avoid hanging items from your rear view mirror, like air fresheners. Place them below the windshield level. Avoid hanging anything from sun visors.
- Make sure all of your lights, brake lights, turn and lane change indicator lights, as well as license plate illumination light – are all working.
- Make sure your vehicle is displaying proper license plate or other registration evidence.
- Make sure your vehicle’s suspension, alignment and steering are good enough that your vehicle does not weave.
- Avoid tinted glass police may view as illegal. (And work on changing this law.)
Given the many overreaching laws already in place, it’s 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.
For further information: Author, Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer.