Side mirrors are typically more prone to accidental damage due to their location and the fact that they stick out from the body of the car. Some accidents can cause the side mirror to break off completely or dangle loosely from the door, rendering them virtually unusable for everyday driving.
So if this happens, can you still legally drive your car around? The answer would actually depend on which state you live in.
Can you drive without a side mirror?
Before we get technical about laws and regulations, let’s start off with the first basic question—can you drive without a side mirror?
If we were to disregard the complexities of state laws and take this question literally, then it’s a tentative yes. Whether or not you are capable of driving with one or both side mirrors missing or broken is largely dependent on your skills as a driver. However, we would strongly recommend AGAINST it—these safety features are there for a reason, after all.
Driving without side mirrors makes it nearly impossible to safely maneuver your vehicle on the road. They’re designed to give you visibility of up to 200 feet behind your vehicle, which is essential when you’re overtaking, switching lanes, turning, and parking.
Technically, you could drive with a broken side mirror (or no side mirrors at all) and experience no issues. This is particularly true for modern cars, as most vehicles these days are equipped with a large display screen on the dashboard that can show you live feeds from your exterior camera system, allowing you to see the sides or the back of your vehicle—or both.
However, driving without side mirrors is considered illegal, except in a few states. Some states may just require the left side mirror, while some require all exterior and interior mirrors.
Is it illegal to drive without side mirrors?
As previously mentioned, the answer to this question depends on which state you’re driving in. There are a few states that require both side mirrors to be present and functional, but in most states, it is considered legal to drive with just one side mirror when it is complemented by a second one—like your rear view mirror.
Some states require side mirrors if the rear window is obstructed. Statutes from Maine, Mississippi, Massachusetts, and Missouri state that at least one mirror—that shows a clear view of the rear and/or left side of the vehicle—is required if the view from the rear window is obstructed by cargo or by a trailer (if towing).
Meanwhile, some states only require at least one of the side mirrors and a rear view mirror. All states that require at least one exterior mirror specifically mention the left or driver side mirror. This is often followed by a statement saying, “along with either a center mirror or right side mirror.”
The left side mirror should always be there to give the driver a view of the highway for at least 200 feet and a clear reflection of the vehicles approaching from the rear and the left side.
Is it illegal to drive without a rear view mirror?
Say you have both the right and left side mirrors but, for some reason, you have a missing center or rear view mirror. Can you get in trouble with the law by going out on the road without fixing it or having it replaced?
In the table below, you’ll find that this is permissible in some states. Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Maryland laws require driving with a left side mirror complemented by either a center mirror or a right side mirror.
This means that driving without a rear view mirror in these states is legal, as long as you have a functional left side mirror.
Mirror Laws by State
For a quick guide on vehicle mirror laws by state, you may refer to the table below.
Note: All fields marked with “X” are required by law, while “O” refers to equipment required by special conditions. A state may have multiple X marks depending on the conditions stated in the statute.
For example, California requires at least two mirrors that are comprised of the left side mirror (required) along with either the center mirror or right side mirror. The fields “At Least Two Mirrors” and “Left Side Mirror” are marked because the code clearly states that one of the two mirrors has to be on the driver side.
The state also has special conditions stating that buses, vehicles with an obstructed view of the rear, and vehicles used for towing are required to have a pair of external mirrors—hence the “O” mark under the “Both Left and Right” field.
Again, you could legally drive without a side mirror in some states, but it is still highly discouraged for safety reasons. Try to get broken or damaged side mirror fixed as soon as you possibly can.
Disclaimer: The table only shows the required and optional mirror equipment. For special conditions, exemptions, and other information, refer to your state’s Department of Transportation website.
While there are federal laws that govern transportation, you must keep in mind that pretty much all states (and many cities and towns) have their own motoring laws. This can be a bit inconvenient, especially if you’re traveling across states. But as a driver, it’s your job to know the laws and abide by them. Violations are punishable by law and citations may apply based on the state where you’re apprehended.
Obviously, nobody wants to get on the road with broken or missing mirrors. But accidents do happen, and while the best course of action is to replace the mirror or use some tape if the damage isn’t too extensive, this isn’t always immediately possible.
Knowing the rear and side mirror laws in your state—or in the state/s you’ll be driving in—can at least help give you some peace of mind that you won’t get pulled over during your travels.