Is it Lawful to Dangle an Object from Your Car’s Rear-View Mirror?

We’ve all seen objects dangling from the rear-view mirrors of motor vehicles.  You may even have such an object in your own car.  But is it lawful?

In Virginia, there is a statute that addresses this issue.  That statute, Va. Code § 46.2-1054, makes it unlawful for an individual to drive a motor vehicle in the Commonwealth with “any object or objects…suspended from any part of the motor vehicle in such a manner as to obstruct the driver’s clear view of the highway…”

The Virginia Supreme Court recently addressed this law in the context of a Fourth Amendment challenge to a police stop.  In an opinion issued on May 5 in Mason v. Commonwealth, the high court held that it was lawful for an officer to stop a vehicle after he observed an object hanging from its rear-view mirror.  That object turned out to be a parking pass – an opaque piece of plastic approximately three inches by five inches.

In ruling that the traffic stop was lawful – and, in turn, that the drug evidence it uncovered was lawfully obtained – the court focused on the broad language of the “suspended objects” statute and the difficulty that officers tasked with enforcing the statue face when trying to determine whether a dangling object in a moving car is obstructing its driver’s clear view of the highway.

The court’s decision in Mason effectively gives police officers broad discretionary authority to stop vehicles with objects hanging from their rear-view mirrors.

Drivers should also be aware that the “suspended objects” statute, by its terms, applies to objects suspended from “any part of the vehicle.”  Thus, objects suspended in front of side or rear windows, or objects such as bicycle racks suspended outside of a vehicle, might also create grounds for a lawful traffic stop.