Can A Cop Pull You Over If Your Middle Brake Light is Out?

Kitsap DUI Attorney Ryan Witt

Several times a year, we see law enforcement officers pull over a vehicle and the only justification given is that the middle brake light is out. However, not all vehicles have a middle brake light and it is not necessary under the law. Even if you have one, it does not need to be functional.

Can You Be Pulled Over If Your Middle Brake Light Is Out?

We believe the answer is no.  We base this opinion on the controlling statute, RCW 46.37.050. 

(1) After January 1, 1964, every motor vehicle, trailer, cargo extension, semitrailer, and pole trailer, and any other vehicle which is being drawn at the end of a combination of vehicles, shall be equipped with at least two tail lamps mounted on the rear, which, when lighted as required in RCW 46.37.020, shall emit a red light plainly visible from a distance of one thousand feet to the rear, except that passenger cars manufactured or assembled prior to January 1, 1939, shall have at least one tail lamp. On a combination of vehicles only the tail lamps on the rearmost vehicle need actually be seen from the distance specified. On vehicles equipped with more than one tail lamp, the lamps shall be mounted on the same level and as widely spaced laterally as practicable.

(2) Every tail lamp upon every vehicle shall be located at a height of not more than seventy-two inches nor less than fifteen inches.

(3) Either a tail lamp or a separate lamp shall be so constructed and placed as to illuminate with a white light the rear registration plate and render it clearly legible from a distance of fifty feet to the rear. Any tail lamp or tail lamps, together with any separate lamp or lamps for illuminating the rear registration plate, shall be so wired as to be lighted whenever the head lamps or auxiliary driving lamps are lighted. 

The Statute Does Not Require Three Brake Lights!

Police like to interpret (or make up) laws that fit their needs. Don’t fall prey to a sloppy interpretation of a straight forward statute. If you have a middle brake light, and it is out, who cares! It is not required anyway. Don’t fall for the false narrative that this is some violation. 

Is This Stop Unlawful? Yes.

If you were pulled over for a middle brake light and subsequently arrested for DUI, there is a good chance we can prove the stop is unlawful. This may allow for a challenge to probable cause and your underlying charge of DUI being dismissed. 

Will A Dismissal Help Me With The Department Of Licensing? 

Additionally, where a case is dismissed due to constitutional challenge, your DOL hearing result (assuming you were suspended) can be thrown out as well. This is an additional step that must be taken upon prevailing on the criminal case.

If you have a Washington State DUI and you find yourself in this situation, give out office a call right away. We can be reached at:

(360) 792-1000