Former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said that all politics are local. But what about laws? Laws seem to work the opposite way, especially when considering vehicular and highway regulation. Sometimes, though, local rules- such as city ordinances- try to sneak tighter regulations than those set out by higher level- such as state- authorities.
Consider the pickup truck. An excellent vehicle for helping a friend move to a new place, transporting landscaping materials, or even just riding for the fun of it. Some people consider the bed of a pickup truck the best place to ride. According to the state of North Carolina, that’s ok, as long as the rider is an adult or is being supervised by an adult also riding in the bed. However, some city ordinances forbid anyone from riding in the bed of a pickup truck.
There is no doubt that the cities banning anyone from riding in the bed of a pickup truck are concerned with the safety of their citizens. This concern is coming at the price of contradicting state law. The state understands the nature of highway travel, understands that people will be driving in and out of various cities and counties, so the state attempts to regulate highway and vehicle laws statewide. This uniformity allows drivers to travel statewide without the threat of rules changing every time a county or city line is crossed.
The issue gets muddy when other offenses are involved. For instance, a police officer who stops a driver with passengers in the bed of the truck may be genuinely concerned about the passengers riding “illegally” in the bed. But then, when the officer is writing the ticket and is hit by an overwhelming odor of alcohol, he starts the processes involved in a DWI stop. At this point, the officer made a stop in good faith, enforcing his local laws, and is now beginning what he considers to be a righteous DWI stop. In any other locality, the stop would not be enforceable because the state allows passengers in a bed of a pickup truck, so now the driver is being penalized for the misfortune of driving through a city that does not support the state’s effort to standardize highway and vehicle laws.
Will the stop be considered righteous? Maybe. Should it? Maybe. It all depends on whether a city has the right to contradict the state’s codified effort to standardize regulations. If a city knows better than the state, the stop is good. If the state should be the one making the rules, the stop shouldn’t count.