Brake light kill switches have become a controversial automotive modification. These devices allow drivers to temporarily disable their brake lights, often used to avoid police detection. But are brake light kill switches actually illegal? The answer is complicated, depending on your local laws. This article examines the legality issues surrounding brake light kill switches.
What Are Brake Light Kill Switches?
Brake light kill switches, sometimes called third brake light disable modules, are aftermarket devices installed to override the brake light function. With the flick of a switch, drivers can turn off their brake lights temporarily. When the switch is off, the brake lights function normally.
These switches are discreetly mounted inside the vehicle, often under the dashboard. They intercept and cut the power to the brake light circuit when activated. Most kill switches have an override design to restore brake light function if the driver brakes hard suddenly.
Reasons Drivers Use Brake Light Kill Switches
There are a few motivations for installing brake light disable switches:
- Evading police detection – The primary reason drivers use these devices is to prevent police from noticing brake lights come on, making it harder to identify speeders or traffic violators.
- Car meets and shows – Enthusiasts may install kill switches to disable brake lights during car gatherings to prevent brake light distraction.
- Confusing following vehicles – Brake light switches could confuse other drivers, like in road rage situations or street racing.
- Stealthy parking – Disabling the brake lights may help drivers park discreetly in unauthorized areas.
- Styling – Aftermarket switches can match customized interiors on show vehicles.
Are Brake Light Kill Switches Street Legal?
Whether brake light kill switches are legal depends on your state laws and how the device is used. In most cases, these modifications are prohibited.
Federal Motor Vehicle Equipment Standards
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sets the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for all motor vehicles and equipment.
FMVSS 108 covers lamps, reflective devices, and associated lighting equipment. It requires brake lights on passenger vehicles to illuminate when the brakes are applied. Any device that disables or alters this function is prohibited under the federal standards.
State Modification Laws
Most states prohibit tampering or altering any required safety equipment on motor vehicles used on public roads. Brake lights are considered vital safety components to prevent accidents.
Many states have statutes against operating unsafe or improperly equipped vehicles, which may prohibit brake light switches. State laws take precedence over federal regulations for vehicle equipment and modifications.
When Brake Light Kill Switches Are Illegal
In most situations, brake light disable switches are illegal if installed or used on public roads. Specific laws depend on the state.
For Evading Police
Using brake light kill switches to avoid police detection is illegal in all states. Disabling safety equipment to interfere with law enforcement is typically prohibited under state statutes.
General Use on Public Roads
Simply having an installed brake light kill switch may be illegal in some states if the vehicle is operated on public roads. The mere presence of a defeat device shows tampering even if not actively used.
During Car Meets
Disabling brake lights, even temporarily at car gatherings, is typically not allowed under state equipment regulations and the FMVSS standards. But enforcement may be lax for these off-road events.
Legal Consequences of Using Brake Light Kill Switches
Drivers caught using illegal brake light kill switches on public roads can face serious penalties:
- Minor traffic tickets or citations
- Fines up to several hundred dollars
- Misdemeanor charges
- Possible jail time in severe cases
- Vehicle impound or removal until fixed
State laws vary on the exact definitions and penalties surrounding brake light kill switches. But all jurisdictions take a serious view of disabling required safety systems.
When Brake Light Kill Switches May Be Legal
There are limited cases where brake light kill switches may be permitted:
- Off-road use – Disabling brake lights for sand dunes, trails, or private property likely does not violate equipment laws. But check state off-road vehicle statutes.
- Show cars – Kill switches on non-street-driven show vehicles may be allowed since they are not safety hazards. But legality is debatable.
- Race cars – Brake disable switches are permitted on dedicated race cars not driven on public roads. Rules are looser for race vehicles.
- Antique cars – Older antique vehicles may not be held to newer brake light standards in some states. But it’s still advisable to avoid kill switches.
Even in these exceptions, legal risks exist. Carefully research all state and local laws before pursuing brake disable switches.
Are Brake Light Kill Switches Worth the Risk?
Given the serious fines, charges, and safety concerns, brake light kill switches are not worth the risks for street-driven vehicles. Accidents and police run-ins become much more likely.
Instead, keep your vehicle lighting system in proper working order. Other mods like darker tint or disabling third brake lights have less legal downside. Operating safely and legally is the wisest choice for your vehicle and wallet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are brake light kill switches completely illegal?
Most states prohibit brake light kill switches for use on public roads, but some exceptions exist like show cars or off-road use. Check your specific state laws for the definitive legality.
What are the fines for getting caught with brake light kill switches?
It varies by state, but fines can range from $50 up to a few hundred dollars plus court fees. Severe cases could lead to misdemeanor charges or jail time.
Can you go to jail for brake light kill switches?
Jail time is unlikely for basic use of brake disable switches. But in extreme incidents of recklessly endangering public safety, or using it to intentionally evade police, jail may be a potential consequence.
Are brake light kill switches easy to spot?
Not necessarily. Well-hidden switches are hard to notice during normal traffic stops. But telltale signs like mods under the dash or cut wiring may raise red flags for inspectors.
Do brake light kill switches work?
Yes, they can completely disable brake light function temporarily. But advanced modern cars with computerized lighting systems are harder or impossible to override.
What other car mods are illegal?
Tinted lights, certain window tints, disabled seatbelts, loud exhausts without mufflers, and modified emissions controls are some other examples of illegal car modifications.
The Bottom Line
In summary, brake light kill switches occupy a legal gray area due to varying state laws and the lack of an outright federal ban. While these devices may serve novelty purposes, using them on public roads to intentionally disable brake lights compromises safety and obstructs law enforcement.
Drivers should refrain from installing or activating brake light kill switches to avoid potential penalties, endangering other motorists, and violating the spirit of vehicle equipment regulations meant to protect public welfare. Except within closed courses and shows, practical use of brake light disablers will likely lead to citations and fines in most jurisdictions.