Charley from Niwot writes, “What’s driving you crazy? I have a question about driver visibility. People hang things on the rear-view mirror like handicap parking permits. Can't they be ticked for that? It says on the placard to remove when driving.”
It’s common to see people driving around with all kinds of things hanging from their rear-view mirror. Parking permits, ID lanyards, air fresheners, graduation tassels, dream catchers and of course large fuzzy dice are some of the most common items. In my first car, a 1975 Plymouth Fury, I adorned my rear-view mirror with a very large corn doll figure of Lee J Cobb. It was silly and definitely a distraction when I made a turn as it swung across much of the front of the windshield.
Reading through Colorado Revised Statute 42-4-201, it doesn’t specifically indicate that hanging something from the rear-view mirror is illegal. The statute only says in section 4, “No vehicle shall be operated upon any highway unless the driver's vision through any required glass equipment is normal and unobstructed.”
Since you live in Niwot Charlie, I talked with Sergeant Bill Crist with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Office. He tells me this is not a common offense that they write tickets for and that a view that is “normal and unobstructed” is open for interpretation.
“One person or one police officer may see the same violation differently than another. Exactly how much of the driver’s view is obstructed and by what means is it obstructed,” Crist said.
According to the website Rear View Mirror Glue, a police officer is not authorized to stop a vehicle in the following scenario: “If they don’t have any articulable grounds or any evidence that the hanging object from the rear-view is materially obstructing the drivers view and the officer fails to prove that the hanging object impairs the driver’s vision.”
However, the website indicates the obstruction law supported police in a case known as Com v. Shabazz. In that case, the driver was caught with a car that had the combination of multiple pine tree air fresheners and 3 by 3-inch foam dice. In that case, the officer gave a reasonable explanation that the defendant was in violation of the statute and the hanging things were obstructing the view.
“Common sense is usually our best friend here when trying to make these decisions,” Crist said. “Some folks have so much stuff hanging from their rear view mirror that it becomes obvious that their view across and out the windshield to the right would be hampered (tags, fuzzy dice, etc) and could potentially become a hazard. Some folks may have, for an example, their high school diploma tassel hanging from the rear-view mirror. Something like this would, in my opinion, not be a credible source or reason for a traffic stop specifically for that offense. Being that the tassel is very thin, that amount of area would not lead me to determine that this item is obstructing the view of the driver.”
Most everything manufactured specifically to hang from the rear-view mirror, like the handicap placard Charley mentioned, should have a liability disclaimer attached to it stating that the item should be removed before driving, so it does not become a hazard to the driver. Crist said this is an area of traffic law that allows quite a bit of discretion by the officer that is initiating the stop.
“This also comes into play with windshields that are cracked to a point where the operator's vision is clearly compromised. Again, discretion becomes a factor, and each case would have to be assessed on an individual basis," Crist said. "To me, a simple crack going along the windshield from left to right within the primary viewing areas of the windshield would not constitute an obstruction. However, a windshield that has been smashed by a rock or a baseball to such a point where sight is not adequate through that area of the windshield, then a traffic stop would be warranted for the charges of obstruction of view.”
The same officer discretion would come into play with a driver who installed a dash cam or cell phone holder on their windshield. Some cell phone mounts can be very distracting, even if there isn’t a phone in one. Many dash cams can be hidden behind the rear-view mirror, making them a minimal to negligent distraction.
Besides objects hanging from the mirror being a visual distraction, according to Scott's Fort Collins Auto, anything hung on the rear-view mirror could cause damage.
“Most rear-view mirrors are attached to the windshield with nothing more than heavy-duty glue. This is more than enough to keep the mirror in place under normal circumstances, but if you hang something big and heavy on it, the glue could loosen over time,” the site says.
By the way, any person who violates CRS 42-4-201 commits a class A traffic infraction and is subject to a $35.00 penalty plus a $10.00 surcharge. Since this is a non-moving violation, no points are assessed against someone's license. The ticket can be paid by mail if pleading guilty, or the person who received the ticket can request a hearing in front of a magistrate or a judge to dispute the charge.
Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast on iTunes , Stitcher , Google Play or Podbean.