In 2020, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation that took effect on March 1, 2021. The new law was passed during a special session to downgrade some traffic violations from primary to secondary offenses.
The law also made it illegal for a Virginia police officer to stop your vehicle for a secondary offense. Only when a primary offense is noted is a police officer legally able to make a traffic stop.
If law enforcement directs you to pull over, pull to the side of the road as soon as you can do so safely. If there is no area in which to pull over safely, put on your hazard lights so the officer knows you see them. Find the next available safe area and pull over.
What Are Primary and Secondary Violations?
The law became effective March 1, 2021, and ensures that police officers are not allowed to stop motorists for only secondary violations. Many of these involve defective or unsafe equipment on their vehicles. For example, it may include a taillight, brake light, or headlights that are not working properly.
Tinted windows, loud exhaust, or objects dangling from the car are no longer reasons that an officer can use to make a traffic stop. Primary violations are more serious offenses for which an officer is allowed to pull you over. They can issue a citation for these violations. For example, speeding, unsafe driving, and front-seat passengers failing to use a seatbelt are primary violations.
If a police officer stops you for a primary violation, they are allowed to cite you for a secondary violation. However, it is against the law in Virginia to stop you for expired tags and stickers or if a marijuana odor comes from your car.
Police officers also cannot stop a pedestrian who is crossing outside of a crosswalk or who is crossing a highway. Once an officer stops you for a primary violation, they can cite you for a secondary offense, including marijuana-based offenses.
What Happens if Law Enforcement Stops You for a Secondary Violation?
Initially, the laws were changed because civilians were pushing back against being stopped for minor violations. The offenses were specifically targeted to reduce racial profiling. Many of these stops were made on people who seemed suspicious in some way but were otherwise innocent.
If you are stopped by a police officer for a secondary violation, consult with Invictus Law immediately. Keep a record of everything the officer says and does, as well as a copy of the ticket. If you were stopped for a secondary violation, it could provide you with a strong defense if you choose to contest the citation.
Watch the Law
Since the new rules went into effect, law enforcement has pushed back against the rule. A bill was introduced by state lawmakers in the 2022 session called House Bill 79 Traffic Offenses, certain; Issuing Citations. The Bill removes the provision for an unlawful stop for secondary violations, including:
- Operating a vehicle without an illuminated license plate
- Defective and unsafe equipment
- No brake lights
- High mount stop light
- Exhaust system with excessive or unusual noise
- Tinted windows
- Objects suspended in the vehicle
As of February 2022, the House voted to pass the legislation, and it went to the Senate. February 28, 2022, the Senate passed the bill “indefinitely in judiciary” in a vote of nine yea to six nay. “Passed by indefinitely” means the committee has voted to reconsider the legislation at a later meeting.
Call Invictus Law for Help with a Traffic Stop
If you were stopped by a law enforcement officer for a primary violation, call Invictus Law today for help fighting your citation. Our legal team can help negotiate a reduced charge or work to get the charges dismissed.
If law enforcement stopped you for a secondary violation, you might have a strong defense to get the violation dropped. Call our office today at 757-317-5125 for a confidential consultation and case evaluation.