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 or third tail light from the manufacturer.
Can You Be Pulled Over If Your Middle Brake Light Is Out?
In most instances, we believe the answer is yes. We base this opinion on the controlling statutes, RCW 46.37.050, 46.37.070(3) and 46.37.200(3).
RCW 46.37.050(1) states – 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.
RCW 46.37.070(3) states – Every passenger car manufactured or assembled after September 1, 1985; and every passenger truck, passenger van, or passenger sports utility vehicle manufactured or assembled after September 1, 1993, must be equipped with a rear center high-mounted stop lamp meeting the requirements of RCW 46.37.200(3).
And lastly, RCW 46.37.200(3) states – Any vehicle may be equipped and when required under this chapter shall be equipped with a center high-mounted stop lamp mounted on the center line of the rear of the vehicle. These stop lamps shall display a red light … and shall be actuated upon application of a service break, and may not be incorporated with any other rear lamps.
To summarize these statutes, cars manufactured after September 1, 1985 and trucks, vans or SUV’s manufactured after September 1, 1993 must be equipped with a rear high-center functioning tail light.
Is This Stop Unlawful? Possibly.
If you were pulled over for a middle brake light or third tail light and subsequently arrested for DUI and your car is exempt based on RCW 46.37.070(3), 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: