Virginia changes law regarding “dangling objects” in vehicles | Allen and Allen

Virginia changes law regarding “dangling objects” in vehicles

For years, attorneys battled in courts all over Virginia against a law that gave police officers the authority to pull over drivers just because they had fuzzy dice or disabled parking placards dangling from their rearview mirrors.

fuzzy dice hanging from a rear view mirror

That law, Va. Code 46.2-1054, made it illegal to hang an object on your rearview mirror or sun visor that could “obstruct the driver’s view through the windshield.”

Critics challenged the statute on two fronts:

1) it allowed police officers to subjectively determine which objects obscure the driver’s view; and

2) because of its subjectivity, it provided an excuse for a traffic stop when police officers did not have probable cause.  Furthermore, civil rights advocates argued that people of color were disparately affected by the law’s arbitrary nature, as according to nationwide data they were stopped and cited at higher rates.

police officers writing a ticket

The widespread use of cell phone and dashcam footage captured several deadly traffic stops in 2020, and finally provided the catalyst for change. The public uproar from these widely publicized incidents led to a special legislative session in November 2020, in which the General Assembly passed sweeping reform in the area of traffic encounters.  As of March 1, 2021, many vehicle equipment violations were transformed from primary offenses to secondary offenses.  This means that the police can no longer stop motor vehicles for most equipment or registration-related violations, including objects dangling from a mirror.

The General Assembly went much further than just making sure that a graduation tassel did not create justification for a traffic stop. With the enactment of Va. Code 46.2-1054(b), if police use this statute as the sole basis for the stop and they discover incriminating evidence -like illicit drugs or firearms – then that evidence would be inadmissible at any future trial.  This is meant to discourage the use of “pretextual policing,” the practice of stopping someone for one reason in order to conduct investigations unrelated to the basis for the stop.

To be clear, the General Assembly did not abolish Va. Code 46.2-1054 – tickets can still be written for objections dangling from a mirror, but only if drivers are stopped for another lawful reason.  But all Virginia drivers can now feel more comfortable hanging up their favorite scented air fresheners!

If you or a loved one have been injured in an auto accident through no fault of your own, you may be entitled to compensation. Call the experienced attorneys at Allen & Allen for a free consultation today, at 866-388-1307.