Maryland Drivers Won’t Catch a Break if Third Brake Light Is Out, High Court Rules

“I didn’t see her brake lights.” “I didn’t think I was going that fast.” “I thought I could make it through the intersection in time.” Baltimore County car accident injury lawyers like us have heard all the possible reasons (and then some) for why Maryland drivers get in traffic accidents — and why they think they aren’t at fault in any way.

As we blogged about in July, Maryland is not a victim-friendly state if you’re in a serious motor vehicle accident with injury, and you’re even a fraction to blame. The Maryland Contributory Negligence Law, which was recently upheld in the high court, can make it difficult in many traffic accident injury cases for victims to collect compensation or damages — unless they have an experienced accident injury attorney to advocate for them. (See link to related blog article below.)

Now the Maryland Court of Special Appeals has given police one more good reason to pull over Maryland drivers. On Sept. 10, the Court ruled that driving with a broken third brake light is inherently unsafe — and sufficient grounds for law enforcement to pull the vehicle over.

The case stemmed from an incident in Baltimore City in 2011, where a man whom police had been watching as he walked on a city street got into the passenger seat of a car and rode away. Police could not stop him as a pedestrian, as he was not engaged in any criminal behavior.

However when they followed the vehicle and noticed the third brake light out, they pulled the vehicle over. A search of the car revealed the smell of marijuana and a firearm; the man in the passenger seat was later convicted of firearms possession. The man appealed on the grounds that the traffic stop for the broken rear deck brake light was illegal.

The Maryland high court disagreed.

Maryland traffic safety code requires that all vehicles made after June 1967 be equipped with at least two stop lamps. However, state code requires motor vehicle inspectors to fail any vehicles made after 1985 if they do not have a working third center-mounted brake light.

A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study from 1986 to 1995 determined the third brake light on vehicles — known as Center High Mounted Stop Lamps in automotive circles — gives motorists a better indication of braking traffic and prevents rear-end collision accidents.

A judge in the case wrote, “…even with two functioning rear brake lights, the specific safety advantages of the center high-mounted brake light demand that it function properly.”

So keep all your vehicle’s lights in working order, including the ones you can’t easily see. Remember, Maryland police see more than you think.

Related Maryland Injury Attorney article:

Maryland Personal Injury Law : Court Upholds Contributory Negligence Law in Soccer Player Accident Case (July 2013)


Maryland: Court Upholds Traffic Stop Over Third Brake Light
Second highest court in Maryland holds driving without a third brake light is inherently unsafe.
The Sept. 24, 2013
Third Brake Light Is No Third Wheel
American Psychological Association May 28, 2003

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