Perhaps one of the most important rights to be guaranteed under both state and federal constitutions is the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. This right places a check upon the government so that it may not whimsically interfere with our personal space. However, when it comes to driving, drivers should be wary that the most “momentary and minor” of traffic violations can permit the police to stop their car, and, in some instances, conduct an intrusive search.
Within the past four years, Pennsylvania’s courts have considered the lawfulness of traffic stops based upon cited offenses for (1) driving in the left-hand passing lane, and (2) driving with objects hanging from a vehicle’s rearview mirror. In the first instance, the Superior Court has not said that momentarily driving in the left-hand lane will always justify a traffic stop, but the possibility certainly exists that it could. See Commonwealth v. Enick, 70 A.3d 843 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2013)
Similarly, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has discussed that driving with an object hanging from the rearview mirror may warrant a government intrusion, but such an object must “materially obstruct, obscure or impair the driver’s vision.” Commonwealth v. Holmes, 14 A.3d 89 (Pa. 2011).
In each instance, therefore, whether the police may lawfully interfere with your right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures is a question of law to be determined under the facts of each individual case. It is important, however, to be mindful that even the most sacred of rights hang by the thinnest of strings, and safeguarding them often requires seeking recourse in the courts.