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Criminal Offense of Defective Equipment on a Motor Vehicle


Because an improperly maintained motor vehicle threatens a grave risk of serious bodily harm or death, the maintenance of a vehicle is of the utmost importance to the driving public. The responsibility for minimizing that risk or compensating for the failure to do so properly rests with the person who owns and operates the vehicle. Accordingly, state vehicle codes usually declare that it is unlawful for any person to drive a vehicle unless it is in such safe mechanical condition that its operation on the highway will not endanger the driver, a passenger, or any other person on the highway. Thus, these codes impose a duty upon the operator to see to it that the vehicle is properly equipped as to maintain control and pose no menace to other traffic on the highway.

All states have enacted statutes that not only regulate the equipment of motor vehicles but also require inspection of vehicles to enforce compliance with the equipment statutes. State motor vehicle codes do not permit operation of a vehicle with defective equipment, whether the defect was detected during an official state inspection or in some other fashion. In general, equipment/inspection statutes address the condition of tires, brakes, horns, rear view mirror, windshields and wipers, exhaust systems, mufflers, and noise control, seat belts, safety glass, emission control systems, bumpers, headlamps, rear lamps, and signal lights.

An operator who receives a ticket for defective equipment is required to pay a fine, which is charged according to the category of defective equipment. There are no driver demerit points assessed on this type of citation as the offense is considered a non-moving summary offense or infraction. State vehicle codes usually give an operator the additional option to correct the defect within a set time period, usually less than 30 days. In that event, the fine will be either waived or reduced. The vehicle code sets forth the manner in which a driver may prove the correction, including possible inspection by a local law enforcement agency.

The state vehicle codes may also authorize a law enforcement officer who observes a defect in a vehicle, such as improper brakes or other specified equipment, or is otherwise unsafe to operate, to take possession of the registration card, license plates, and inspection decals of the vehicle and retain them for a period of time unless the owner either corrects the defects or obtains a new safety inspection sticker.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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