Windshields with Obstructions Could Still Yield Traffic Stops Under Proposed Connecticut Law

The Connecticut State Senate recently passed SB 1195, dubbed the driving equity bill, which would establish a number of secondary violations for motorists. If made law, the measure would prohibit traffic stops solely for violations such as one non-working headlight, missing window-tint compliance stickers, and, to a lesser degree, windshield obstruction.

Much of the state’s statute relating to windshield requirements and subsequent justifications for traffic stops would remain unchanged in the event the measure makes it through the legislative process. Vehicles in Connecticut must have windshields along with working wipers and wiper fluid, and must be “reasonably free” of defects and accumulations such as snow, ice, condensation and dirt.

“No person shall operate a motor vehicle required to be equipped with such a windshield if the windshield is in a condition to interfere with an unobstructed view of the highway,” reads the current statute.

Should a crack or chip in a vehicle’s windshield be deemed by law enforcement to interfere with that unobstructed view, a traffic stop can be conducted. However, the bill’s change with respect to windshield obstruction is that devices or ornaments that interfere with a driver’s view would be considered secondary violations. That means law enforcement would be unable to perform traffic stops based on that reason alone.

“No article, device, sticker or ornament shall be attached or affixed to or hung on or in any motor vehicle in such a manner or location as to interfere with the operator’s unobstructed view of the highway or to distract the attention of the operator.”

However, that’s only true in the event the obstruction “is not substantial.”

Also addressed in the legislation, and knocked down to secondary violations, are broken mirrors, inadequate license plate displays, failure to register a vehicle, failure to renew a driver’s license and more.

The Center for Policing Equality cites figures from the Connecticut Racial Profiling Prohibition Advisory Board in reporting that the state’s Black drivers are nearly twice as likely to be stopped for equipment-related violations compared to white drivers. Additionally, Latino drivers are 1.3 times more likely to be stopped for administrative offenses as compared to white drivers.

Therefore, center vice president for policy and community engagement Max Markham says the legislation is a “modest but important step in the right direction.” The center also argues that ending traffic stops for low-level infractions allows law enforcement officers to spend their time on more serious or safety-related concerns.

“Some law enforcement agencies in the state have already shifted away from low-level enforcement, with excellent outcomes,” the center writes. “In Newington, for example, such violations accounted for 40% of stops but after shifting enforcement priorities, the Newington Police Department was able to increase focus on DUI arrests by 250%.”

The measure passed 25-11 on May 9 and would take effect Oct. 1, 2023.

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