Obviously, the easy answer to this question is not to violate any violations of the New Jersey traffic code. However, in my practice, I have recently seen a number of people pulled over for reasons other than moving violations under New Jersey’s motor vehicle code. Because the first defense for attorneys in representing individuals in municipal court for violations and criminal offenses arising out of traffic stops is to challenge whether or not the officer had appropriate cause under New Jersey law to actually make the stop in the first place, any “legal” reason that an officer has to effectuate a traffic stop makes the attorneys’ defense of any case much more difficult.
Other than moving violations, the four most used violations by an officer to validate a potential, otherwise “illegal” traffic stop have to do with simple equipment violations that can be resolved rather quickly and inexpensively.
The first equipment violation relates to the “improper” covering of a license plate by a license plate frame. License plate frames are generally the plastic “frames” that are given out by most car dealers or that can be bought in any automotive store. New Jersey law, at N.J.S.A. 39:3-33 prohibits a motor vehicle from having a license plate frame which conceals or otherwise obscures “any marking” on the license plate. Thus, if a portion of the words “New Jersey” or “Garden State” is obscured on your license plate in any way, a police officer has the legal right to effectuate a traffic stop. The removal of these license plate frames to prevent the concealing or obscuring of the letters on your license plate is an easy fix that can be performed with a screwdriver.
The second violation relates to items hanging off of your rearview mirror and other obstructions of the windshield and front side windows. New Jersey Statute 39:3-74 states that no person shall drive any vehicle which is “constructed, equipped or loaded” so as to “unduly” interfere with the driver’s vision. New Jersey case law has held that items hanging from the rearview mirror could fall under the language of this statute. However, the statute also includes the existence of stickers, signs, radar detectors, navigation systems or any other device or mechanism attached to the front windshield. Once again, the removal of these items from the windshield area is a rather inexpensive fix.
The third violation relates to tinted windows. The same statute that restricts the hanging of anything from the rear view mirror also has been construed to hold that tinted windows constitute such a obstruction of view and, as such, the tinting of any three of your front windows would constitute appropriate cause for a law enforcement officer to pull you over even where you have not committed a moving traffic violation.
The fourth violation relates to broken lights on your vehicle such as headlights, taillights, brake lights and signal lights. Even where you have not committed a moving traffic violation, a law enforcement officer has appropriate cause to effectuate a traffic stop upon you where he observes that one of your lights is not operational.
It should be noted that the fines and penalties for these violations, in and of themselves, are not excessive. However, as is often the case, the law enforcement officers, upon effectuating a traffic stop will then observe that the driver or passengers in the vehicle have violated other motor vehicle and/or criminal statutes such as driving while intoxicated (DWI), driving under the influence (DUI), possession of controlled dangerous substances (CDS), possession of drug paraphernalia, open containers of alcohol in a vehicle, possession of a weapon or any other offenses which the officer may observe during a traffic stop. Once you are pulled over for a valid reason, it is difficult for an attorney to challenge the traffic stop on the basis of articulable suspicion or probable cause.
Accordingly, in light of all of the above, it is prudent to make sure that your motor vehicle complies with all of the above statutes in order to prevent being pulled over by law enforcement even where you have not actually committed a moving traffic violation.