Cracked Windshield Example

The legal issues surrounding a traffic stop conducted on the basis of a “cracked windshield” and similar “unsafe conditions” are best illustrated with an example:

While driving in his patrol car, a police officer passes a youthful male driving a 2007 Chevy Impala.  The Impala is traveling in an economically distressed neighborhood slightly below the posted speed limit.  As the Officer passes the Impala, he notices what appears to be a 3 inch crack to the right of the rear-view mirror.

With concerns for ‘safety’ paramount, the officer pulls over the Impala.  The justification: a cracked windshield has created an “unsafe condition” under Section 316.610(1), Florida Statutes.

Can the officer conduct a traffic stop on the grounds recited above?  The answer is no.

Section 316.610 : Provisions

Section 316.610, Florida Statutes, governs the detention and inspection of vehicles where the condition of the vehicle poses safety concerns.  The statute provides, in pertinent part:

316.610Safety of vehicle; inspection.—It is a violation of this chapter for any person to drive or move . . . on any highway any vehicle . . . which is in such unsafe condition as to endanger any person or property, or which does not contain those parts or is not at all times equipped with such lamps and other equipment in proper condition and adjustment as required in this chapter, or which is equipped in any manner in violation of this chapter . . .

(1) Any police officer may at any time, upon reasonable cause to believe that a vehicle is unsafe or not equipped as required by law, or that its equipment is not in proper adjustment or repair, require the driver of the vehicle to stop and submit the vehicle to an inspection and such test with reference thereto as may be appropriate . . . [emphasis added]

The legal requirements for windshields, as required by Chapter 316, are referenced in Section 316.2952.  The primary requirements can be summarized as follows:

  1. windshields must be a in a fixed, upright position with appropriate safety glazing;
  2. they must not have prohibited signs or sunscreening materials
  3. they must have a device for cleaning rain, snow, etc.; and
  4. windshield wipers must be in good working order;

Endangerment to Persons or Property

At first glance, Section 316.610(1) appears to indicate that an officer can stop a vehicle for a cracked windshield if his or her observations support a reasonable belief that a vehicle is unsafe or improperly equipped, or in a state of improper repair.

However, this subparagraph must be read in conjunction with all portions of the statute, including the windshield requirements of Section 316.2952 and the introductory paragraph of Section 316.610 referencing “unsafe” conditions “endanger[ing] any person or property.”  Hilton v. State, 961 So. 2d 284, 290-92 (Fla. 2007).

Following these principles, the Florida Supreme Court has held that  “a stop for a cracked windshield is permissible only where an officer reasonably believes that the crack renders the vehicle ‘in such unsafe condition as to endanger any person or property.'”  Id. at 292.  The Court further concluded that a cracked windshield does not render a vehicle improperly equipped or repaired because such cracks are not proscribed by Section 316.2952.   Id. at 290-92.

Traffic Stops for Minor Cracks are Invalid

Under Hilton and its progeny, a police officer in Florida cannot legally stop a vehicle on the sole basis of a minor crack in the windshield.

With regard to similar safety issues used to justify a stop under Section 316.610, the officer must show that the conditions complained of “endanger[s] persons or property, or that the condition violates a specific statutory requirement contained within Chapter 316.

Where officers exceed this authority, any evidence they discover as a result of the invalid stop will be suppressed under the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule.