It’s the question any driver on the road hates to hear: “Do you know why I pulled you over?”
The answer can sometimes be pretty simple. Yes, I was going 85 in a 40. Yes, I didn’t want to wait at the red arrow when no one was coming on what I thought was a deserted road, so I turned against it.
But the answer can sometimes be tough to find. You think you’re doing everything right. Hands at 10 and two, under the speed limit, turned on the blinker before switching lanes. That all might be true. But when was the last time you checked your license plate light?
There are all kinds of reasons a law enforcement officer can pull a driver over in Colorado, and not all of them are obvious. And while it might not seem like that big of a deal to be pulled over for a license plate light violation, in a state where a blood alcohol level of more than .05 can result in astronomical criminal penalties, that little light can be a big deal.
With those type of roadside interactions in mind, here are more little-known reasons that a police officer can stop you.
Ma! Get outta the trailer – Next time you head to the county fair or rodeo, make sure no one is back with the horses. Colorado law prohibits any person from riding in a moving trailer, so keep everyone up in the cab until you get back to the ranch.
Slow down, dear – Sure, police stop people all the time for going too fast. But how often do you hear about people getting stopped because they are going too slow? Well, it can happen. So make sure to keep up with the rest of us.
Sorry, I couldn’t hear you – Still working on getting that new stereo in the car? Speaker in the ’78 Silverado blown out? Too bad, but don’t make up for it by listening to your iPhone through headphones because that’s against the law. And it is actually pretty easy for patrol people to see chords dangling from drivers’ ears. Remember this the next time your radio goes out because, as Lloyd and Harry famously asked in “Dumb and Dumber,” “Radio? Who needs a radio?”
Don’t be cheap – Next time you’re coming down the mountain from Purgatory or Silverton and are short on gas, don’t try to be “economical” by sticking it in neutral. Coasting is illegal in Colorado, even though some of our roads make it a pretty inviting idea.
Please keep to the right – When you have the pleasure of driving on a road with two lanes of traffic in one direction, Colorado law says you have to stay in the right lane. You can use the left lane to pass, but don’t dawdle there. Otherwise, a law enforcement officer will be sure to escort you from the left lane all the way to the shoulder – or worse.
Light that license – You need more than taillights and headlights when you’re out on the road at night. You actually need a light that illuminates your license plate. And this light must be bright enough to make the plate visible from at least 50 feet back. You might be surprised at how closely police pay attention to these lights when the bars are closing.
Put down the phone, kid – Here’s one for the teenage driver in your house: Anyone under the age of 18 years old caught using a telephone can get hit with a $50 fine; a second infraction gets them a $100 fine.
Pull off at the scenic overlook – Here is another one for Sunday drives through the San Juans: Colorado law says that drivers who aren’t going the normal and reasonable speed of traffic must get out of the way when possible.
Honk so they hear you – The Colorado General Assembly must have had us in mind when it titled one of the state’s traffic laws, “Driving on mountain highways.” The law says that drivers who aren’t entirely to the right of a yellow line must honk the horn when they approach “any curve where the view is obstructed within a distance of two hundred feet along the highway.” This applies to any driver going through “defiles,” and “canyons,” or “on mountain highways.” For the record, a “defile” is a narrow passage or gorge. It is not the type of defile they talk about in Game of Thrones.
Sometimes, it’s just not possible to adhere to all these rules. Drivers don’t always check the license plate each time they get in the car. Sometimes mom won’t get out of the trailer. And your teenager probably has a hard time resisting that phone call.
But at least now, if you see red and blue lights in your rearview and thought you were doing everything right, you can confidently ask, “What seems to be the problem, officer?”
Becky Briggs is a Durango attorney specializing in criminal defense. Reach her at (970) 403-1151 or by email at BeckyBriggsLaw@gmail.com.