Traffic stops are common in Virginia. Yet, despite their prevalence, they still induce anxiety in many road users, especially those who’ve not dealt with a police officer before.

With recent changes in Virginia traffic laws, you might be wondering, 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 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 decide how to categorize traffic offenses. So, what might be 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 on the rearview mirror

Can police pull you over for loud exhaust in Virginia?

No, they cannot. Under the new law, defective or loud mufflers are now a secondary offense. This legislation applies to all motor vehicles, including mopeds, motorcycles, and scooters.

What are the new laws for 2021 in Virginia?

Changes in the Virginia Code in March of 2021 discourage a police officer from stopping cars for a secondary offense.

Citing a history of pretextual and racially based automobile stops by police, the Virginia Legislature, in special sessions, changed the playing field. As a result, police can no longer pull over drivers for a secondary offense.

As of March 2021, police are prohibited from stopping motorists for:

  • No license plate light
  • Defective or unsafe equipment
  • No brake lights or no high mount stop lights
  • Loud exhaust system
  • Tinted windows

In addition to this, according to the recent changes:

  •  No evidence arising from a stop now unlawful shall be admissible in any trial, hearing, or other proceedings.
  • Police officers are also prohibited from stopping, searching, or seizing anyone based solely on the smell of marijuana.
  • Any evidence arising from a stop now unlawful shall be admissible in any trial, hearing, or other proceedings.
  • Localities are also prohibited from making a secondary offense a primary offense in their ordinances.
  • The law now prohibits law enforcement from stopping anyone pursuant to a local ordinance involving ownership or maintenance of a vehicle unless such violation is a jailable offense.
  • Police officers can no longer stop pedestrians for jaywalking or entering a highway where the pedestrians cannot be seen.
  • Police are also prevented from stopping a car for expired inspection or registration stickers until the first day of the fourth month after the sticker has expired.
  • No evidence discovered or obtained due to an impermissible stop, including that obtained with the person’s consent, is admissible in any trial, hearing, or other proceedings.

The problem with giving power to law enforcement is that there is a tendency to maximize that power to the detriment of the otherwise innocent person.

Note: not wearing a safety belt for persons over 18 years is now a primary infraction.

Why were the Virginia Traffic Stop Laws Changed?

Virginia traffic laws were revised due to major pushback against police for stopping drivers for minor traffic violations like marijuana odor and expired tags. House Bill 5058 was discussed by the General Assembly in a special session in late 2020 but was passed in March 2021.

The goal of these changes is to address racial justice problems in Virginia. Officers used many of these violations to pull over a person who seemed suspicious in some way or shape.

Importance of a 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 possible jail time. In which case, you should fight them in court. A professional traffic lawyer increases your chances of winning. Contact Keefer Law Firm today!