Automobile accessories are car parts that generally are not necessary for the normal functioning of an automobile. Most car accessories are attachments to the car that serve a decorative, stylistic, or other non-essential purpose. Some accessories are existing parts modified to make them more aesthetically pleasing.
State laws prohibit car owners from using or placing accessories on their car that might pose a risk of danger to the driver or to other drivers on the road. Thus, automobile owners should always exercise caution when adding any non-manufacturer accessories to their car.
Illegal automobile accessories contribute to a large percentage of automobile accidents every year. Also, automobile accessories are also a common focus of many major car defect recalls.
What are the Laws Regarding Automobile Accessories?
Each state in the U.S has its own laws regarding automobile accessories and the penalties and fines for adding them to a car.
A person should consult the laws in the state where their car is registered regarding any automobile accessory a person wants to install or any modification a person wants to make.
What are Some Examples of Dangerous Automobile Accessories?
Some automobile accessories are actually legal, but are considered dangerous due to risks of which an average person might not be aware. Other accessories are illegal and should be avoided, not just to avoid a ticket, but also to avoid the risk of serious injuries to one’s self or other drivers.
Some automobile accessories only become dangerous when they are used in the wrong way, such as high beams or fog lights. Some examples of automobile accessories that might be both dangerous and illegal include:
- Video/DVD Players: Newer cars can come equipped with video or DVD players for rear seat passengers; these are allowed. However, some people also use portable players in the front passenger area even for the viewing pleasure of the driver. They are illegal, because they are distracting to drivers and possibly others on the road. These must be used, or not used, in conformance with applicable local, state and federal laws.
- Certain Types of Headlights: For example, high-powered headlights and other types of headlights can be blinding for oncoming traffic. Similarly, fog lights and high beams need to be used according to applicable laws; high-intensity discharge headlights are illegal in all 50 states in the U.S.; the color of headlights are restricted by state law also.
- Neon Lights/Wheel Lights: Neon lights are sometimes attached to the underside of a bumper or side railings, or along the outside of a wheel. These are illegal in most states.
- Brush Guards/Push Guards: These are metal additions to the bumpers, usually on a truck or SUV. They can make the damage to other vehicles more severe in the event of a collision, and can increase the risk of injury to both the driver of the car with the guards as well as the other driver in a crash.
- License Plate Covers: Tinted or smoke-colored plastic covers on a license plate can sometimes make the license plate unreadable; police read license plates they see on the road routinely, so these are illegal. Even clear plastic covers are illegal in most states.
- Hanging Crystals: Hanging crystals, metals, or other objects from a rear-view mirror can cause blinding glares.
Window Tint: Window tint is illegal in some states; some states allow tinting up to a certain degree of darkness.
- Black-Out Kits: These are tinted covers that are applied over a vehicle’s lights to reduce their illumination below the levels required by law; they may affect other driver’s perceptions of their distance from the altered vehicle during night-time driving or inclement weather, and for that reason they can be very dangerous; they are illegal.
- Exhaust Modifications: These are modifications to the muffler and exhaust system for purposes of enhanced performance, appearance, or sound; if it makes the car louder when in operation, it might result in a ticket for a noise violation. If it changes other aspects of the vehicle’s operation, it might result in violation of a state’s air-quality laws regarding vehicle emissions.
Usually, accessories manufactured by automobile manufacturers comply with all applicable laws. Vehicle manufacturers are well-informed about the many federal and state regulations that apply to the manufacture of their cars. Anything sold by other entities should be investigated before a person invests money in them.
A person would want to investigate a modification thoroughly before investing a lot of money in auto body or engine work that might result in a ticket or an order from a government agency or court to undo the modification, possibly at great cost.
As mentioned above, a person should double-check with the law of the state in which the car is registered before adding any accessories or making modifications to their automobile. If a person is unsure about the status of a particular accessory, they should not install it until they can confirm its legality.
There are sellers of parts and kits for modifying a car or installing an accessory who post false or misleading information about their products. They may represent that their parts or kits are legal or safe when in fact they are not.
Some body shops or automotive service shops will make modifications that they know are dangerous or illegal. They do not inform the owner of the car because they do not want to lose a sale. Again, making a modification that is illegal can be expensive. A person might not get their money back from the person who sold them an illegal modification and they might have to pay to remove it themselves.
What are the Legal Consequences of Dangerous Automobile Accessories?
The legal consequences of installing a dangerous automobile accessory can vary depending on the situation:
- Ticket for a traffic violation: In many cases, the police may simply issue the owner a ticket which requires removal of the accessory from the car. However, a ticket might sometimes involve paying a monetary fine. Removal might be costly depending on the nature of the modification. Ignoring a ticket can result in increased penalties and even arrest if it is ignored for too long a time.
- Civil Liability: When an unlawful modification or an unlawful automobile accessory contributes to an auto accident, the driver and/or owner of the vehicle may face civil liability for negligence for injuries caused to other people or damage to property. This is especially true if the accessory directly caused the accident or injury. The likelihood that a driver or owner with an illegal modification or accessory will be liable for an accident becomes more certain if the owner of the vehicle is aware of the risks or illegal status of an accessory, yet continues to use it. They may face a personal injury lawsuit for damages for negligence.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help Regarding Dangerous Automobile Accessories?
The laws covering dangerous automobile accessories vary from state to state. You may wish to consult a traffic violation lawyer or personal injury lawyer for advice on how to deal with automobile accessories and modifications in your state. Or, you might ask at your local department of motor vehicles or other agency that regulates traffic enforcement.
If you’ve been injured due to a dangerous automobile accessory or modification, an experienced personal injury attorney can consult with you about the facts of your case and review your options. You can retain the lawyer to represent you and file a lawsuit if that becomes necessary. A personal injury lawyer can represent you in court at hearings and at trial if the case proceeds that far.