Checking Your Plate Lights Can Avoid a DWI Arrest

Hello everyone. A growing number of DWI arrests begin with a stop for "defective equipment", usually something as innocuous as a "plate light out". These are the small lamps (usually there are two of them) that light up your license plate for the police to see. Curiously, you can usually read license plates without the lamps on on all but the darkest roads anyway, but it still gives the police an excuse to stop you and interrogate you.

Fewer DWI cases begin with erratic operation or accidents than ever before. Today's typical DWI stop is based on hyper-technical "violations" of the motor vehicle code, like defective plate lights or "crossing the white fog line" on the right hand side of the travel lane. That is not because the police have taken a sudden interest in lighting up license plates or preserving the man-made beauty of our state's fog lines.

No, it is because they want to make more DWI arrests in an environment where fewer and fewer drivers are displaying any actual erratic behavior at all. I found it curious on Thursday that I was driving behind a cruiser that crossed the fog line continuously on his way to a DMV hearing. If he had been a citizen he might have been stopped and interrogated, forced to follow the magic pen, walked on a line and stood on one leg, all because of his "crossing the fog line".

You can take some precautions against unwanted police contact. Periodically check all the lighting in your vehicle. Especially check the plate light at night. Make sure it is working and that you can see the plate from 50 feet away. I have also included a copy of the New Hampshire law on plate lights. Though not a model of clarity, it may give you some idea of what the police try to enforce when they stop you for this "violation".

RSA 266:44 (2008)

266:44 Tail Lamp and Reflectors.

Every motor vehicle and trailer or any combination of vehicles, when on the ways of this state at night, shall have on the rear thereof, and to the left of the axis thereof, one lamp, displaying a red light visible for a distance of at least 1000 feet to the rear of such vehicle, and a white light illuminating the registration plate of such vehicle so that the characters thereon shall be visible for a distance of at least 50 feet, except that passenger cars manufactured or assembled after January 1, 1952, shall have at least 2 tail lamps, one to either side of the axis thereof. 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. All tail lamps on any vehicle shall be located at a height of not more than 72 inches nor less than 20 inches from the ground, measured from the ground to the center of the reflector, and shall be placed in such manner as to indicate the extreme width of the vehicle and load and to reflect rays of light thrown upon such reflector. The visibility of such reflectors shall not be impaired at any time. Whenever a vehicle is manufactured with multiple tail lamps or multiple bulbs or filaments in the tail lamps, each of the lamps, bulbs, or filaments and any other exterior lighting equipment with which the vehicle was manufactured shall be in working order.

Have a safe weekend,

Mark Stevens
5 Manor Parkway
Salem, NH 03079




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