New law bans police from pulling over Virginia drivers solely for certain car safety violations

Officers can also not stop people if they smell marijuana

ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. – New legislation taking effect Monday makes it harder for authorities in Virginia to pull over drivers.

Several minor infractions, while still illegal, can no longer be the primary reason police stop you while you’re driving.

These include certain defective equipment, objects dangling from your rearview mirror, loud exhaust, tinted windows and smelling marijuana to name a few.

An expired inspection or registration sticker can only get you pulled; however, it has to be at least four months late. The legislation lists more changes here.

For social justice advocates, this is a win.

“I think it’s a first step. It’s a huge first step,” said Brad Haywood, founder and executive director of Justice Forward Virginia.

Haywood said these violations have long been used to stop people for drug investigations and disproportionately target people of color.

“Why should they be allowed to investigate people based on hunches when they have no evidence? Why don’t we expect them to actually get probable cause for drug possession or gun possession before they pull a car over?” Haywood said.

On the other side, Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall said it’s not about race, but safety and enforcing the law.

“This has got to be one of the dumbest pieces of legislation I’ve ever read,” Hall said. “If someone’s getting arrested off one of these traffic stops, it’s because they’re wanted, they’ve committed some other crime, perhaps we found drugs or an illegal weapon. Those are people that we want to arrest because they’re criminals.”

The battle over whether these changes are more dangerous or more just is still drawing a sharp divide.

“We ought to expect better of our police than to just shake people down because they feel like it,” Haywood said.

“There really isn’t much point behind this and it’s really not going to accomplish anything positive,” Hall said.

These changes were approved during the General Assembly’s Special Session in 2020.


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