Too Bright: When Can the Police Stop You for Using Your High Beams?
Posted by Scott Gorman - December 30, 2022

Driving in the dark is dangerous as it is, especially in areas where there are no streetlights and few other drivers on the road. It can be hard to see what’s ahead of you or around you, and in these cases, most drivers flick on their high beams in order to shed a little light on their surroundings.

While most drivers use their high beams for safety purposes, the use of these brighter vehicle lights can also be a safety hazard for other drivers. High beams are significantly brighter than a car’s regular headlights and can temporarily blind an oncoming driver, especially if he or she has experienced overwhelming darkness prior to encountering a car with its high beams on. For this reason, some police officers will pull over a driver who is using his or her high beams in an area with moderate amounts of traffic, and New Jersey has a high beam law to govern these instances.

NJ Supreme Court: High Beam Law Is Intended to Protect Other Drivers

The New Jersey high beam law, N.J.S.A 39:3-60 states that a driver is required to dim his or her high beams if he is approached by another oncoming vehicle. Although this law is in place to protect drivers, in some cases, law enforcement officials can try to cite this law as a reason for initiating a traffic stop.

However, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a recent ruling that police cannot use this high beam statute as the grounds to pull over a driver and search the vehicle unless there is evidence that the vehicle’s high beams would interfere with the driving of another person. That case, State v. Al-Sharif Scriven, involved an Essex County officer who pulled over a driver who was using his high beams, intending to instruct the driver on the state’s laws.

According to the 2013 police report, the officer was not in his car but outside of it, inspecting an abandoned building, when the driver passed. The driver was the only one using the road, which was described as “well-lit.” The officer noted that the driver had not broken any other traffic laws but pulled him over anyway.

During the stop, the officer searched Scriven’s car and found an illegal gun, bullets, and a magazine. Scriven was charged with unlawful possession, which could have resulted in a jail sentence, but he argued that the charges were the result of an unlawful traffic stop. The United States and New Jersey constitutions protect citizens from unlawful searches and seizures, and Scriven argued that all evidence obtained after the stop should be suppressed – meaning it could not be used against him at trial – because the stop was illegal. The New Jersey Supreme Court agreed and ruled that the statute for high beams could only be used to protect other drivers.

Potential Charges When the Police Pull You Over for Using High Beams

If the police legally pull you over for using your high beams (i.e., if you fail to lower your high beams for oncoming traffic), you can potentially face charges for a variety of other offenses. When the police make a lawful traffic stop, they can question you, and they can observe anything inside your vehicle that is in plain view. If you voluntarily answer any questions or consent to a search of other areas of your car, the police can use any evidence they obtain as a result of this as well.

In the case discussed above, Mr. Scriven faced charges of unlawful firearm possession (which were ultimately dismissed due to his illegal traffic stop). If the police legally stop you for failing to lower your high beams, your traffic stop could potentially lead to other charges such as:

These are just examples. When you get a ticket, it is important to carefully review your ticket to determine what charge (or charges) you are facing. If you are being charged with multiple traffic violations, your points and fines could add up quickly, and if you are facing charges for other offenses, additional penalties (including jail time) could be on the table.

What Should You Do if You Get Pulled Over for Using Your High Beams in New Jersey?

Let’s say you find yourself in a situation similar to that of Mr. Scriven—the police pull you over for using your high beams, and then they end up charging you with another crime. What should you do?

In this situation, one of the most important things you can do is write down as many details as you can remember. Was there any oncoming traffic? If not, then you may not have been required to lower your high beams under Section 39:3-60. Were you speeding or otherwise violating the law? If the police stopped you for using your high beams but also for another traffic violation, then your stop may still have been justified—and the prosecution’s evidence may still be admissible in court.

It will also be important for you to speak with a defense lawyer as soon as possible. This is true whether or not your traffic stop was lawful. If your traffic stop was lawful, you will need a defense lawyer to fight all of your charges in court. If your traffic stop was unlawful, you will need a defense lawyer to prove it and file a motion to suppress the prosecution’s evidence against you.

Discuss Your Case with Defense Attorney Scott Gorman for Free

For more information on the state’s high beam laws and illegal traffic stops, seek legal guidance from skilled Morristown DWI attorneys like Scott Gorman at The Gorman Law Firm. Scott and his team can represent you if you feel that an unlawful stop has led to criminal charges or investigations.

To get started with a free and confidential consultation, call 973-796-3800 or tell us how we can reach you online now. 

Published in Categories: DUI / DWI