Updated on August 25th, 2023 at 06:22 pm
Traffic stops are common in Virginia. Yet, despite their prevalence, they still induce anxiety in many drivers, especially those who have never dealt with law enforcement officers before. With recent changes in Virginia traffic laws, you might wonder, can police stop motorists for secondary offenses in VA?
Recent updates to the Virginia Code discourage police officers from pulling over drivers for a secondary infraction. These changes are precipitated by a history of racial bias and pretextual stops, which led to dramatic racial disparities in pedestrian and traffic encounters.
As a result, the law changed most minor pedestrian and traffic violations from primary to secondary offenses in March of 2021.
Let’s look at what constitutes a secondary offense in VA and what the new laws address.
What is a Secondary Offense?
A secondary offense is one where a summons is issued after you are pulled over for another separate offense. These offenses include:
- Distracted driving violations
- Vehicle lighting violations
However, every state reserves the right to categorize traffic offenses. So, a secondary offense in one state might be a primary offense in another.
The penalties for these violations are often minor, ranging from a citation to a small fine. So, while you could opt to fight a secondary offense, the time and expense aren’t worth it.
What are Secondary Traffic Offenses in Virginia?
Some secondary offenses in Virginia include:
- Operating a car with unsafe or defective equipment
- Driving a car without a license plate light
- Possession of marijuana
- Driving with objects suspended from the rearview mirror
Can Police Pull You Over for Loud Exhaust in Virginia?
According to the new excessive noise law enacted on July 1, 2022, Virginia police can pull over vehicles for excessive exhaust noise. Under this law, police officers can write you a citation if your noisy vehicle exhaust can be heard 50 feet away.
This law is intended to prevent unusually high and excessive noise levels, determined to be a public nuisance. Unfortunately, there’s no device to measure the noise levels, so law enforcement must rely on experience and training to determine if a vehicle exhaust system violates this law.
What Traffic Laws have been Downgraded in Virginia?
The law instituted on March 1, 2021, brought changes that downgraded some primary offenses to secondary offenses. Some notable downgrades include:
- The smell of marijuana from the motor vehicle – before, the odor of marijuana from your car was sufficient to get stopped and searched. In 2022, no law enforcement officer can lawfully pull over, search, or seize a driver, thing, or place based on marijuana odor alone.
- Defective exhaust system – a faulty or loud muffler system is downgraded to a secondary offense in VA. These include cars, mopeds, and motorcycles.
- Items suspended in the car – hanging items like air-freshener from your rearview mirror is a secondary traffic offense in VA.
- Window tint – tinted windows past the allowable tint level are illegal but a secondary offense.
- Brake lights – a police officer in VA can no longer pull you over for broken taillights.
- Expired stickers and tags – police traffic stops for a safety inspection or vehicle registration stickers that are outdated for less than four months aren’t allowed.
In addition to this, the new law affects the following changes:
- No evidence arising from a police traffic stop that’s now unlawful is admissible in court.
- Localities are also prohibited from making a secondary offense a primary offense in their ordinances.
- The law now prohibits law enforcement from stopping anyone under a local ordinance involving ownership or maintenance of a vehicle unless such a violation is a jailable offense.
- Police officers can no longer stop pedestrians from jaywalking or entering a highway where pedestrians cannot be seen.
- Police are also prevented from stopping a car for an expired inspection or registration sticker until the first day of the fourth month after the sticker has expired.
- No evidence obtained or discovered during an unlawful stop, even those obtained with the driver’s consent, is admissible in court.
The problem with giving power to law enforcement is a tendency to maximize that power to the detriment of the otherwise innocent person.
Note: Not wearing a seat belt for persons over 18 years is a primary traffic offense.
Why Were the Virginia Traffic Stop Laws Changed?
According to reformers, the changes in Virginia traffic stop laws were a key step toward reducing pretextual policing. This was to stop law enforcement from stopping vehicles for minor reasons like expired tags and marijuana odor and conducting an unrelated search or investigation.
Unfortunately, Black motorists were on the receiving end of these traffic stops, many of which spiraled out of control.
Experienced Virginia Traffic Lawyer
With the changes, several infractions were downgraded from primary offenses. If you are stopped by an officer and charged with a crime for any of these infractions, you should consult an experienced and qualified traffic ticket attorney.
In some instances, it’s less troublesome and expensive to go along with the charge, but other times, it could lead to loss of your driver’s license, hiked insurance premiums, fines, criminal records, or jail time. In this case, you should fight them in court, and hiring a professional traffic lawyer increases your chances of winning. Contact Keefer Law Firm today!