Third brake lights

I was recently picked up for failing to have my “third brake light” in operation in the state of Florida. I drive a 1996 Ford Explorer, and other than my “third brake light” located on top of the rear hatch, both the left and right rear brake lights are just fine. Furthermore, in order to fix the “third brake light” my mechanic tells me I need to replace the whole unit, a job that will cost several hundred dollars.

Dilemma: The police told me they picked me up for the vehicle not being fully operational, due to the bad “third brake light.” And yet, I’m not breaking the law, am I, since the other two rear lights are just fine? May need to go to court on this one.


Each state has it’s own laws so I can speak to that legally. But technically you have a non-functioning brake light.

I am unfamiliar with that vehicle setup, but I would be surprised if you have to replace the whole unit. Have you taken a screw driver and seen if you can open it up and just replace a light bulb?

Fix your Brake Light!
Honestly, Some people!

According to the 2006 Handbook, the required lighting equipment for the rear are TWO taillights.

This information is a little out of date. Your best course of action is to call the DMV’s information line and consult with a DMV employee. Find out state and federal requirements for stoplights. More importantly, you’re looking to see if you were actually NOT in violation of the law, even though you had one burned out light, because you had two properly functioning brake lights.

If you find out that you’re okay, then you may have a reason to visit traffic court.

My father drives a Chevy van that he actually removed the high mounted stoplight from. No tickets yet.


The third brake light is mandated by the fed’s. Did you think all the auto makers just decided to put it on cars and light trucks just becaues someone else was doing it? The cops can give you a ticket for a non-operation third brake light just like they can for either of the other two. It’s required equipment.

The federal gov’t can mandate that each new car must have certain equipment but it is still up to each state to decide whether or not it must be operational. For example, there are still a few states that don’t require seat belt use.

My guess is that the Florida state police know their own state law. If they wrote you up for a non-working third brake light, then you were illegal. Go ahead and get it fixed. Find another mechanic and ask for a second opinion.

Any wimp can have his third brake light repaired. It takes a real man to put up with whiplash for the rest of his life.

I’m a wimp. If repairing the brake light would prevent someone from rear ending me, I’d go for it.

It’s interesting that Chrysler products from about 1941 through 1949 had center mounted brake lights. My 1948 Dodge had this arrangement with the brake light in the center of the trunk above the license plate. I thought that this was a good safety feature that gave a good warning that the driver had applied the brakes and was separate from the tail lights. However, this was the only light that came on when one hit the brakes. I thought this was a good feature when it was mandated on 1986 and later cars. I bought kits to add this feature to the pre 1986 cars I owned.

Agree with tree hugger. Light a candle and don’t curse the darkness!

Did you try the obvious and replace the bulb(s)??

The bulbs were only single filament and only for the tail lights. My 1948 Dodge did not have the optional turning signals. Chrysler corporation didn’t think of having the tail lights incorporate filaments that lit up with the brake lights. I did install a turning signal kit that I purchased from Montgomery Ward. It was really simple to install since the brake lights weren’t incorporated into the tail lights. I just replaced the tail light sockets with dual filament sockets.

I have a 1996 Ford Explorer and that is why I noticed this old question. Just for the record, the “high” brake light in this car is and LED assembly, not a bulb, and as such is probably quite expensive to replace. I know from personal experience on my car that you have to remove the plastic trim panel around the inside of the tailgate (and break some plastic retainers doing so!) just to get to the assembly. Since the “bulbs” are LED’s, the problem is probably not them but the wiring harness that is at fault. An automobile electric shop that has experience with this car may find the problem quickly.