Now, police have one more reason they can stop you. A new law, signed by Governor Ducey on May 17, allows police to pull drivers over for a non-operating tail light, even if the other two are working just fine.
Closing the 2011 Loophole
In 2011, a man was pulled over because his “liddy light”, or middle brake light, was not working. Once he was stopped, the officer noticed the man seemed to be impaired and arrested him. The man was brought up on DUI charges.
Eventually, all charges were dropped because he was stopped illegally. The Arizona Appeals Court ruled that he never should have been stopped in the first place, because Arizona law only required one working tail light.
The law read that every vehicle “shall be equipped with at least one tail lamp mounted on the rear” and “the lamp shall be maintained at all times in good working condition.” So, as far as Arizona was concerned, one brake light was good enough.
New Arizona Tail Light Law
So as of August 6, 2016, drivers must have all of their tail lights working. Otherwise, they can be stopped by a police officer.
Even though Arizona’s Department of Public Safety felt that one working tail light was sufficient for safety, members of the Arizona House of Representatives voted 57-2 to close the loophole and make the law stricter. With Governor Ducey’s signature, it became even easier to be stopped in Arizona.
Mike Williams, a lobbyist for the Arizona Police Association, defended the law against criticism that it is too vague and allows police officers too much power. When Rep. Charlene Perez voiced concern over the law’s vague interpretation and broad implications, Williams responded “Ted Bundy was caught because he did not have a working tail light.”
That glib response ignores that far more people are stopped for pretextual reasons based on a hunch or an officer's pre-conceived notions that have violated no law. The road safety experts determined there was no community safety need for this law. So the only reason it was passed is to give police even more power. Police harassment is an everyday occurrence affecting untold masses. We shouldn't sacrifice the rights of many to give more power to the police to harass motorists.
What This Means for Drivers
This means that even if that non-operating tail light is the only thing wrong, you can be pulled over. There are already many, many reasons police can stop drivers in Arizona. Now, drivers can potentially be stopped, and subjected to sobriety tests, under a rule many are unaware of. And as I wrote about in a previous blog post, Arizona’s extremely strict DUI laws mean any amount of alcohol in your system, no matter how small, can land you in very serious trouble.
There are a few things to remember if you are stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence, whether or not a broken tail light has anything to do with it. First of all, never submit to any roadside tests. Be courteous to the officer and show him or her your license and registration, but don’t say anything that can later be used against you. Ask to speak to your attorney before agreeing to any tests. And make sure, if you are charged with DUI, that you get an an experienced lawyer on your side.