What You Need to Know About Texas Traffic Laws and Taillamps

October 12th, 2021 by Tad Nelson in Traffic Offenses, Traffic violations attorney, Understanding Texas Law

A broken taillight is often a pretext for police to initiate a traffic stop. Indeed, it is a traffic violation to operate a modern vehicle (one made after 1960) without at least two functioning taillamps. According to Section 547.322 of the Texas Transportation Code, the taillamps must be mounted on the rear of a vehicle at a height of between 15 and 72 inches and “emit a red light plainly visible at a distance of 1,000 feet from the rear of the vehicle.”

Additionally, one of the taillamps–or a separate lamp–must emit a white light to illuminate a vehicle’s rear license plate. The light must be strong enough for someone to make out the license plate from a distance of at least 50 feet. This traffic rule is designed to help law enforcement identify vehicles traveling down the highway.

Officer’s Belief that Driver’s License Plate Was Not Illuminated Leads to Felony Drug Conviction

This also means that if an officer has difficulty reading a license plate, they may initiate a traffic stop for failure to follow the rear taillamp rules. In most cases, this may lead to nothing more than a ticket and a summons to appear in court. Of course, if the stop leads the officer to discover possible evidence of other criminal activity, the driver may face more serious charges.

Consider this recent case from the Texas 10th District Court of Appeals, Ayers v. State. In this case, a police officer was on patrol one night when he observed a car that he said had no lights illuminating its rear license plate. The officer, therefore, decided to initiate a traffic stop. During the stop, the officer discovered evidence of illegal drug possession. Prosecutors subsequently charged the driver of the vehicle–the defendant–with cocaine possession. A jury later convicted the defendant and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

On appeal, the defense argued the initial traffic stop was itself invalid because there never was a rear taillamp violation. At trial, the officer admitted on cross-examination that he was not within 50 feet of the defendant’s vehicle before pulling him over. The officer’s own dashboard camera video of the stop also indicated the defendant’s license plate was illuminated. The owner of the vehicle, who retrieved the car from the police following the defendant’s arrest, also presented photographs showing the car’s license plate was properly illuminated.

Despite all this, the appellate court declined to reverse the defendant’s conviction. The 10th District noted that the defendant’s evidence was “not indisputable”, and the trial judge was free to believe the officer’s testimony that he honestly believed the defendant’s license plate was not illuminated.

Contact Galveston Traffic Ticket Lawyer Tad Nelson Today

Even when a traffic stop does not lead to felony charges, you may simply wish to fight a traffic ticket that you believe was wrongly issued. An experienced Houston traffic violations attorney can help. If you need legal advice or representation, contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates today to schedule a consultation.

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