HARRISBURG, Pa. — The police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in Minnesota is drawing attention to a little-known traffic law involving air fresheners.
In Pennsylvania and at least five other states, drivers are prohibited from hanging objects from their rearview mirrors, including decorations and air fresheners, on the basis that they could obstruct the drivers’ vision and cause a safety hazard.
The law has come under scrutiny after the death of Daunte Wright, who was fatally shot by Minnesota police during a traffic stop on April 11.
Wright’s mother said he told her he had been pulled over for an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Police in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center said Wright had been stopped for expired car registration tags.
With air fresheners ubiquitous in cars, the law has drawn criticism that it’s a mere justification to pull over more people.
“Some of the friends that we have actually got pulled over for having it on their windshield,” said Rustam Suvanidze of Ephrata. “I don't quite see it to be that dangerous. There are many things people do in their cars that are way more dangerous than having a tree in your mirror.”
“Because we have more problems than that. They pull me over for that, I'll give them my ID and they'll probably make me take it out the window. That's it,” said Marty W. of Lancaster. “I shouldn’t worry about getting shot over that.”
But the charge would be easy to beat in court, according to Harrisburg-based criminal law attorney Corky Goldstein, who serves as senior counsel at Mooney & Associates. The Pennsylvania law bans hanging objects that “materially obstruct, obscure or impair the driver's vision through the front windshield.”
“The word 'substantially' is the key thing that you've got to look for,” said Goldstein. “I've never seen a State Police officer or a local police officer has pulled over anybody for a regular air freshener hanging in the mirror.”
If you do find yourself pulled over for something hanging from your rearview mirror, Goldstein recommended staying calm.
“I would say don't get into an argument,” he said. Accept the citation. Try to explain it, but accept it if it's given and take it from there.
Goldstein also suggested taking a picture of the windshield view as evidence.