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Jeffery D. Bramer is certified as a criminal trial advocate by the National Board of Trial Advocacy


Cracked Windshields

Very few police officers know the law in Alabama concerning driving with a cracked windshield. They often stop vehicles that have very large cracks in the windshield citing the code section that deals with driving with an obstructed view. However the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals refutes this notion and clearly states that is not a violation. Here are some excerpts from the case:

” § 32-5-215. Windshields must be unobstructed; windshield wipers; tinting.

” (a) No person shall drive any motor vehicle with any sign, poster, or other nontransparent material upon the front windshield, side wings, or side or rear windows of such vehicle which obstructs the driver’s clear view of the highway or any intersecting highway.

” (b) The windshield on every motor vehicle shall be equipped with a device for cleaning rain, snow, or other moisture from the windshield, which device shall be so constructed as to be controlled or operated by the driver of the vehicle.

” (c) Every windshield wiper upon a motor vehicle shall be maintained in good working order.

” (d) No person shall operate a motor vehicle which has a windshield, side wing, or rear window

which has tinting to the extent or manufactured in such a way that occupants of the vehicle cannot be easily identified or recognized through the side wing or rear windows from outside the motor vehicle.

” (e) The provisions of this section shall not apply to the manufactured tinting of windshields of motor vehicles or to certificates of identification, decals, or other papers required by law to be displayed on such windshield or windows.” [7]

Although other statutes dealing with the operation and equipment in automobiles include provisions requiring that automotive parts be properly maintained, there is no such provision for the windshield itself. See, e.g., § 32-5-212 (” All such brakes shall be maintained in good working order….” ); § 32-5-210 (” No person shall operate any vehicle of a type required to be licensed upon the highways of this state … when one or more of the tires in use on such vehicle is in unsafe operating condition….” ); § 32-5-213 (” Every motor vehicle when operated upon a highway shall be equipped with a horn in good working order….); § 32-5-216 (” Every motor vehicle shall at all times be equipped with a muffler in good working order….” ); § 32-5-215(c) ( ” Every windshield wiper upon a motor vehicle shall be maintained in good working order.” ).

 

In fact, the legislature appears to accept the possibility of cracks, without condemning them as illegal, by the language of § 32-5-218, which addresses safety glazing in motor vehicles. Section 32-5-218(b) states:

” (b) The term ‘ safety glazing materials’ means glazing materials so constructed, treated, or combined with other materials as to reduce substantially, in comparison with ordinary sheet glass or plate glass, the likelihood of injury to persons by objects from exterior sources or by these safety glazing materials when they may be cracked or broken.”

The clear language of § 32-5-215 addresses the obstruction of windshields due to moisture, tinting, and the application of nontransparent materials on the windshield so that the driver’s clear view is obstructed. It is this latter provision that was argued at trial as justifying the stop of J.D.I.’s vehicle. Despite any possible legislative intent, cracks or dings in windshields are not included as improper obstructions within this statute

In the present case, the State failed to introduce any evidence indicating that the Officer had been trained to make traffic stops based on cracked windshields. Nor was there any other evidence indicating that the Officer’s belief that he could make such a stop was objectively reasonable. The Officer merely testified that he had made many traffic stops based on cracked windshields for safety reasons and because the cracks could have obstructed the drivers’ vision. Therefore, this traffic stop was also improper under the objectively reasonable standard. The stop was not based on a reasonable suspicion that J.D.I. had violated the law or had been involved in criminal activity.

I recently handled a case in a local Municipal Court and the Judge followed the law. The Judge  dismissed a cracked windshield ticket as well as the Driving While License Suspended case after I argued that the Officer made an illegal stop and therefore would not have known my Client’s Driver’s License was suspended unless he had made the traffic stop.

For reasons such as this everyone needs an attorney, even in municipal court. The attorney you hire needs to be well suited for the type case you have. This office handles every type of criminal case including traffic and DUI.