New law finally lets cops stop drivers for broken tail light

New law finally lets cops stop drivers for broken tail light


Sometime this summer, police will have a new excuse to pull you over.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Tuesday that requires each and every tail and brake light on your vehicle to be working.

One of them out? That’s enough probable cause for a cop to stop you, issue a ticket — and just check out in general what you’re doing.

And if there’s any doubt that’s part of what’s behind the change in law, all someone needs to do is understand what led to it — and who is pushing it.

The issue traces its roots to a 2011 ruling by the state Court of Appeals.

In that case, a Tucson police officer had pulled over a motorist because the “Liddy light” — the brake light in the middle of the rear of the car — was not working. Only after the motorist was stopped did the officer conclude the driver was impaired and made an arrest.

But here’s the thing: It turns out the other two brake lights were working.

Arizona law until now has said any motor vehicle “shall be equipped with at least one tail lamp mounted on the rear.” It also reads that if a vehicle has a stop lamp, “the lamp shall be maintained at all times in good working condition.”

Or, as appellate Judge Joseph Howard noted, one brake light is all that’s legally required.

He said police can “stop and detain” anyone for an actual or suspected violation of the state’s motor vehicle laws. But, absent such a violation, pulling someone over is a violation of Fourth Amendment rights against warrantless search and seizure.

And, as Howard pointed out, having a brake light out did not break the law.

“The officer observed no other traffic infractions, nor did the officer articulate any other reason for the stop,” the judge wrote.

The change was pushed by Mike Williams, lobbyist for the Arizona Police Association. And he admitted to lawmakers during hearings that HB2509 was designed to give police another reason they could legally stop motorists in the first place.

So as of Aug. 6, the law says each stop or brake light has to be working. That includes the Liddy light, named after Elizabeth “Liddy” Dole who was the federal transportation secretary when the law was changed to require manufacturers to put that third stop lamp on vehicles.

Williams said this is about more than stopping drunk drivers. He said the 1970s serial killer, kidnapper and rapist Ted Bundy was captured because his vehicle did not have a working tail light.

Lawmakers did agree to add language to Williams’ original proposal to say that a first violation results only in a warning. But that still gives police the power to pull someone over in the first place.