Tail lights mostly working? Good enough, court says, ruling against traffic stop

SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico’s highest court has ruled that state law doesn’t require vehicle tail lights be working perfectly, only that they work well enough for their intended use.

A ruling Monday by the state Supreme Court stems from a man being issued a traffic ticket for violating a state law requiring that certain vehicle equipment be in “good working order.”

To conclude that “good working order” means free from flaws or defects “would impose an absurd standard for vehicles on New Mexico roads and highways because it would require that equipment be in perfect condition, beyond a more reasonable expectation that equipment functions for its intended use,” Justice S. Shannon Bacon wrote for the court.

The case began when a Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy pulled the man over because one bulb in a tail lamp didn’t work — despite the rest of the bulbs in the lamp being illuminated. The deputy cited him both for the tail lamp and for driving under the influence, of which he was convicted. Lower courts had ruled against the driver’s arguments that the deputy had no reasonable suspicion to pull him over, because the tail light met the law’s requirement that it be visible from a distance of 500 feet. The high court agreed with him.

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