Windshield-Mounted GPS in Arizona

For the arrested in Arizona – Yes. Global positioning system (“GPS”) devices are legal in Arizona. But we are seeing a huge increase in the amount of traffic stops by Arizona DPS officers on the basis of a GPS device being displayed or mounted on a driver’s windshield. Let’s take a close look.

The Scenario

The typical scenario is this. You’re traveling through Arizona, maybe stopping at the Grand Canyon. According to the National Park Service, nearly 5 million people visit the Grand Canyon each year. And do you think they all have Arizona license plates? Of course not.

So there you are, driving through Arizona, with a California license plate. Or maybe you rented a car in Las Vegas and it has Nevada tags. It doesn’t matter: all that the police officer sees is that you are a tourist, an outsider, a visitor – not from Arizona. You’re driving east on I-40 through Arizona and you see an Arizona DPS officer.

You slow down to ensure you are at or below the speed limit. You look in your rear view mirror. You see the officer pulling out of his hiding spot. He accelerates. He’s right behind you. But you weren’t speeding. Then, his lights come on. Is he really pulling me over? You calmly turn on your signal, pull onto the shoulder, and come to a stop. The officer appears at your window and says, “I’ve pulled you over because of your GPS device.”

Rental Companies Offer GPS to Customers

Rental car companies regularly offer GPS devices with your car. Hertz offers a GPS device with its service “NeverLost.” Avis and Budget offer the Garmin where2 system. Enterprise and National also provide GPS devices to customers. It makes sense: you’re renting a car, which means you’re probably not an Arizona local, which means you probably will need driving directions. The rental car comes with the GPS device pre-mounted on your windshield, toward the center at the bottom. Or the GPS device has a weighted base, which allows it to be placed on the center dash. So, does Arizona law prohibit GPS? No. It matters, however, where the device is mounted.

Arizona Traffic Stops and GPS Devices

Let’s go back to our scenario. The officer has pulled you over because of your GPS device. But what does that mean? There are a couple of Arizona traffic laws to consider here. The first law says:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person shall not operate a motor vehicle with an object or material placed, displayed, installed, affixed or applied on the windshield or side or rear windows or with an object or material placed, displayed, installed, affixed or applied in or on the motor vehicle in a manner that obstructs or reduces a driver’s clear view through the windshield or side or rear windows.

A.R.S. section 28-959.01(B).

And there you have it. The Arizona DPS officer has pulled you over not because you have a GPS device, but because that device is, in the officer’s opinion, obstructing or reducing your clear view through the windshield. But can he prove it? The second law says:

B. A person shall not operate a motor vehicle with an image display device that is visible to a driver seated in a normal driving position when the vehicle is in motion. C. This section does not apply to any of the following: . . . 4. Image display devices that are portable and are not used to display dynamic visual images other than for purposes of navigation or global positioning to a driver while the vehicle is in motion.

A.R.S. section 28-963.

Traffic stops based on these laws have not been litigated heavily in the Arizona appellate courts. So we are left to wonder if the first law, A.R.S. section 28-959.01, which has not been updated or amended since 1996, is such a powerful tool for law enforcement that it allows officers to pull over people in virtually any rental car, any time, because the driver rented the car from out-of-state and the car came with a windshield-mounted GPS device.

Or, is the law being abused so that drug interdiction officers can pull over rental vehicles, perceived to be drug courier vehicles, that are otherwise obeying all traffic laws, in an effort to get out a drug sniffing K9 and detain the driver on the side of the road?

At Griffen & Stevens Law Firm, PLLC, we aggressively challenge these GPS stops. We defend all drivers accused of wrongdoing, whether it’s a CDL holder accused of DUI or a tourist with a cannabis card accused of hauling marijuana through Arizona.

If you’re in a rental car with a GPS device, get ready to spend more time in Arizona than you had expected. On the side of the road. Or in jail. Let us aggressively defending your rights in court.

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