Can I Get Pulled Over for a Cracked Windshield?

September 17, 2021 Criminal Defense

Law enforcement officers in Florida can justify a traffic stop if they observe the motorist driving while their vehicle has some sort of unsafe condition. But does just a cracked windshield give officers the right to pull you over? How about the right to search your car? In this blog post, we will explore the legal implications of a cracked windshield, but with statutes and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution in mind.

The Statutes

Florida Statute Section 316.610 discusses law enforcement’s ability to detain and inspect vehicles that have conditions causing safety concerns. The statute provides (with emphasis added):

  • 610 Safety of vehicle; inspection

It is a violation of this chapter for any person to drive or move, or for the owner or his or her duly authorized representative to cause or knowingly permit to be driven or moved, on any highway any vehicle or combination of vehicles which is in such unsafe condition as to endanger any person or property, or which does not contain those parts or is not at all times equipped with such lamps and other equipment in proper condition and adjustment as required in this chapter, or which is equipped in any manner in violation of this chapter, or for any person to do any act forbidden or fail to perform any act required under this chapter.

  • Any police officer may at any time, upon reasonable cause to believe that a vehicle is unsafe or not equipped as required by law, or that its equipment is not in proper adjustment or repair, require the driver of the vehicle to stop and submit the vehicle to an inspection and such test with reference thereto as may be appropriate.
  • In the event the vehicle is found to be in unsafe condition or any required part or equipment is not present or is not in proper repair and adjustment, and the continued operation would probably present an unduly hazardous operating condition, the officer may require the vehicle to be immediately repaired or removed from use. However, if continuous operation would not present unduly hazardous operating conditions, that is, in the case of equipment defects such as tailpipes, mufflers, windshield wipers, marginally worn tires, the officer shall give written notice to require proper repair and adjustment of same within 48 hours, excluding Sunday.

Florida Statute Section 316.2952 discusses the legal standards for vehicle windshields. It states (in pertinent part) that:

  • windshields must be in an upright position, fixed, with the appropriate safety glazing;
  • must not have any unauthorized screening materials or signs;
  • must possess a device capable of cleaning rain, snow, or other moisture that could impair driving vision; and
  • must possess windshields wipers that are in good operation.

Some vehicles are exempt from these standards, like grove equipment vehicles, vehicles regulated under Florida Statute Section 316.267, and former military vehicles if the department determines that the exemption is necessary to maintain the vehicle’s accurate military design and markings.

What Constitutes “Endangerment to Persons or Property”?

Per Florida Statute Section 316.610(1), a police officer can pull a vehicle over for a cracked windshield if the officer reasonably believes that the vehicle is in an unsafe condition, in a state needing repair, or improperly equipped for actual use. But, per Supreme Court of Florida case Hilton v. State, this fact must be read with the context of the entire statute, including Florida Statute Section 316.2952 governing windshield standards and the first paragraph of Florida Statute Section 316.610 that states the conditions must be “unsafe” so as to endanger people or property.

In Hilton, the Florida Supreme Court concluded that an officer can pull someone over for a cracked windshield “only where an officer reasonably believes that the crack renders the vehicle ‘in such unsafe condition as to endanger any person or property.’” Furthermore, the Court stated that just a cracked windshield does not rise to the level of a vehicle being “improperly equipped” or in need of repair since cracked windshields are not prohibited by Florida Statute Section 316.2952.

What Does This Mean?

Florida Supreme Court case Hilton helpfully established a bright-line rule regarding cracked windshields – a Florida officer cannot pull a vehicle over legally just because the windshield is cracked. To justify the detention (stop) of the vehicle, the officer must show that the vehicle had conditions that would endanger people or property, or any conditions that violate specific requirements of Chapter 316 of the Florida Statutes. Therefore, if an officer makes an illegal stop based on a cracked windshield not rising to the level of endangering people or property, any evidence obtained because of the illegal stop must be suppressed per the exclusionary rule of the Fourth Amendment. To read more about the Fourth Amendment and your rights during official searches and seizures, click here.

Tallahassee Traffic Crime Attorney

The best protection for your rights can come in the form of an experienced and knowledgeable Tallahassee traffic crime attorney. Don Pumphrey and the members of the legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have decades of experience defending Floridians against traffic crime charges and can ensure that your rights will be protected and upheld. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today to discuss your options during an open and free consultation with an attorney in our team.

This article was written by Gabi D’Esposito

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