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Avoiding Traffic Stops – Minnesota Laws

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Another year, another truckload of laws – the usual, right?  How does that affect you, and traffic stops?  For the most part, hopefully it doesn’t.

But when you consider the fact that most criminal law problems – large and small – start as vehicle traffic stops; it pays to be aware of laws allowing police to stop you.  Here are a few of them.  All represent an expansion of government power and a reduction of your liberty and freedom.

Liberty lost, in the name of a good cause

Do you remember several years ago when advocates of a controversial seat-belt fine-only law, reassured us; “don’t worry, we will never ask for a primary seat belt law.”  How long is “never,” again?  Not that long, it seems.

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It starts with a traffic stop…

Police now can stop you for merely not wearing a Seat-belt in Minnesota.  

A “primary violation” seat belt law gives police the legal authority to stop a vehicle; if someone apparently is not wearing a seat belt.

The previous version of the seat belt law did not allow traffic stops solely for seat belt enforcement.

But now the law does.  The law eliminates personal choice, and personal responsibility.  It:

  • hands over more responsibility and power to the government; taking it away from the individual. 
  • reduces the need for people to be responsible for themselves; develop an internal personal moral code. 
  • reduces your freedom. 

As usual, they claim taking your freedom is worth it – for your own good.

More police power endangers the public: Seat Belt Stop

The new “primary” seat belt violation law increases the potential for traffic stops and arrests resulting from racial profiling.  Racial profiling is a real problem – difficult to solve.  Of course, police generally don’t view themselves as racist. And few people do. But they are no different from the rest of us; and are no more immune to racial stereotyping and its effects.

We know that when it comes to race, there is a disparate impact. And only perceptions of “race” can explain this disparate impact.  

So every law we ask police to enforce has a price. Each creates more opportunities for police to stop people for petty, technical violations. And this inevitably leads to a worsening of the racial profiling problem.

Social control by force – by law enforcement – corrodes our culture and our youth

Why learn individual responsibility if the government allows you little of it; and controls ever smaller aspects of your life – year after year, law after law? 

This seat belt law gives law enforcement yet another reason to pull someone over; and to find another, bigger reason to interfere with your life and liberty.

Expansion of Child Seat law

The law now mandates children in a motor vehicle be in a child passenger restraint system. And that mandate lasts until their eighth birthday or they reach 4 feet 9 inches tall. 

Of course, this is yet another reason for a traffic stop by police; if it appears you might be in violation.

Traffic Stops: Global Positioning Systems on Windshield

You can now lawfully mount a Global Positioning Systems (GPS) or locate it near the bottom-most part of a vehicle’s windshield.  Previously, anything mounted on the front or rear windshield put the driver at risk of a traffic stop by police. 

The “obstructed windshield” statute, used by police to justify traffic stops, does have language about obstruction to the drivers view. Yet, it gave police an excuse to stop; if there was anything on the windshield, or between the windshield and the driver. 

windshield gps: no traffic stops
Windshield GPS: no traffic stops

And these have included RADAR detectors (otherwise legal), notepads stuck to the windshield, air fresheners or items hanging from the rear-view mirror; in addition to GPS units mounted to the windshield.  At least now we have an exception for GPS units mounted to the lowest portion of the windshield.  Presumably in that location, it will not impede the driver’s view of traffic.

What about a RADAR detector?  Prudence might argue for a newer RADAR detector with a GPS unit incorporated in the same unit.  That – or don’t mount it to the windshield.  (SeeSpeeding Laws in Minnesota for a discussion of MN speed law and defense.)

Minnesota Windshield statute

But otherwise, the windshield law, is Minnesota Statutes Section 169.71 Subdivision 1 (a). It can give police an excuse for a stop:

“A person shall not drive or operate any motor vehicle with:
(3) any sign, poster, or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield, sidewings, or side or rear windows of the vehicle, other than a certificate or other paper required to be so displayed by law or authorized by the state director of the Division of Emergency Management or the commissioner of public safety.”

Minnesota Statutes Section 169.71 Subdivision 1 (a)

So some police officers will use an “obstructed windshield” as an excuse for a traffic stop. Avoid hanging items off the mirror, or attached to the windshield other than GPS units. This reduces your risk of harm by police. And police sometimes prolong a traffic stop, and search for evidence; wasting your time, risking your safety.

Tips for Avoiding Traffic Stops on Technicalities

Other than changing your race, age, car, etc.; how can you minimize your risk of a Fourth Amendment seizure by police? 

Of course, obeying the traffic laws seems obvious.  If only that worked every time.

Risk of death or bodily harm during traffic stop: “If it would save one life….”

But what about all of the technicalities police can use to either ruin your day, or ruin your life?  Here’s a list of a few:

  1. Avoid placing any decals on your front or rear windshield, even where instructed to do so by a government agency.  Instead, place them on a side window, where necessary.
  2. Make sure there are no cracks in your windshields.  In winter, make sure they are free of ice and snow.
  3. Avoid hanging items from your rear view mirror, like air fresheners.  Place them below the windshield level.  Avoid hanging anything from sun visors.
  4. Make sure all of your lights; brake lights, turn and lane change indicator lights, even the license plate illumination light – are all working.
  5. Be sure your vehicle is displaying proper license plate or other registration evidence.
  6. Make sure your vehicle’s suspension, alignment and steering are good enough that your vehicle does not weave.
  7. Avoid tinted glass police may view as illegal.  (And work on changing this law.)

Minimizing police contacts increases public safety

Given the many overreaching laws already in place; we need to prevent police from violating your privacy and liberty interests. 

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Traffic stops are the narrow end of the wedge the government drives into you and your life. And this begins government’s effort to hurt or destroy you.

Every police contact creates a significant risk of a life-altering criminal charge, even physical harm – innocent or not. 

So every smart citizen should strive to avoid these risky police contacts in the first place.

For further information: Author, Thomas Gallagher, Minneapolis Criminal Lawyer.