Ask A Trooper 2018

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If you have any questions concerning traffic-related laws or issues in Minnesota, send your questions to Trp. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol at 1000 Hwy. 10 W., Detroit Lakes, Minn. 56501-2205. (You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at, jesse.grabow@state.mn.us.)

How close is too close when following another car?

Q:  What is the correct following distance? Everyone seems to be way too close behind each other. What can I do as a driver having someone too close behind me?

A:  The only law regarding following distance pertains to vehicles pulling trailers. This includes trucks as well as semi-truck tractors with trailers. They must maintain a minimum distance of 500 feet.

While state law does not require a specific distance for vehicles not pulling trailers, it does say you shall not follow another vehicle more closely than is reasonable and prudent, having due regard for the speed of such vehicles and the traffic upon and the conditions of the highway.

We recommend what’s called the three-second-plus following distance rule. Watch the vehicle in front of you. When that vehicle gets past an object such as a sign, pole, bridge or other landmark then count off three seconds. You should not arrive at that spot sooner than your count to three. If you do, then you are following too close! Also, you must add one second for every hazard that exists. Hazards include but are not limited to heavy traffic, rain, snow, fog, driving into the sun and more. In some cases you might have to allow six, seven seconds (or even more) to be safe because of existing hazards.

Crash facts show a much larger number of cars and pickup trucks being involved in fatal rear-end crashes than semi-truck tractors pulling trailers.

If someone is following you too close, pull over and let them pass. Tapping your brake lights may not always be a safe option, but in certain cases might help temporarily. Check your mirrors every three to five seconds so you know what is going on around you. While we cannot control the vehicles around us, we can control our own driving habits.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 


What should you do if you find a wallet that’s not yours?

Q: My father found a wallet at a big retail store while on vacation and was concerned about handing it off to the staff there, instead deciding to contact the owner directly. He was eventually pulled over by local PD, with the wallet in hand, and was told he could be brought up on theft charges. What should he have done? His intent, clearly, was to ensure the staff at the store wasn’t going to pocket any cash from the wallet before putting it in their safe, but that’s not how the police perceived it.

A: There are two other options that could have been done besides turning the wallet into the store staff. He could had turned it over to a supervisor at the store where it was found. The other option is to report it to the local police or sheriff’s department where it was found.

What could have happened in this situation is the wallet may have been stolen and discarded where your father found it, and it was considered stolen property. By explaining how and where the wallet was found would clear him as a suspect of possessing stolen property. If further evidence is needed, law enforcement could obtain video footage from the store and that would support his statement.

We have had wallets, purses and property found on state highways or freeways turned into a trooper or an MSP office staff employee. We would go through the wallet or purse in an attempt to find some form of identification that can be used to contact that person.

If you ever lose a wallet or purse that contains credit cards and a driver’s license, contact your credit-card companies as soon as you can and report it missing so they can’t be used to purchase anything. Contact your state’s department of vehicle services and report your driver’s license is missing and a duplicate license can be obtained. If the wallet or purse is stolen, report it to your local law-enforcement agency where a report will be generated and the items can be returned to you if found.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 


How do you legally display a license plate and tabs on a trailer?

Q: I recently purchased a trailer that requires yearly tabs. I’m worried the plate will get damaged if I mount it to the manufacture’s bracket. I have noticed throughout the years that owners of some trailers have mounted their trailer plates on the fender well in a vertical position and not horizontal so it can be read easier. Is that legal?

A: If your trailer is a small utility trailer that has 3,000 pounds gross vehicle weight or less, it would receive a permanent Minnesota registration sticker.

The registration sticker issued is displayed on the tongue of the trailer and no plate is required.

For registered trailers weighing more than 3,000 pounds GVW, they would require one license plate with yearly registration displayed horizontally with the identifying numbers and letters facing outward from the trailer and mounted on the rear of the trailer.

I recommend you place your license plate in the manufacturer’s bracket that is more than likely mounted on the rear of the trailer. Having the plate on the fender in a vertical position is illegal.

Remember, the person driving the motor vehicle that is pulling the trailer shall keep the plate legible and unobstructed and free from grease, dust or other blurring material so the lettering is plainly visible at all times. It is unlawful to cover any assigned letters and numbers or the name of the state of origin of a license plate with any material, including any clear or colorless material that affects the plate’s visibility or reflectivity.

If law enforcement sees any equipment or registration violation, you could be stopped and warned or issued a citation, so please obey all equipment and traffic laws.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 


When are open-flame heaters allowed on motor vehicles? 

Q: I work for an equipment dealership and we sell road-oil distributors and cold-mix patch boxes on heavy trucks, that are equipped with propane and diesel-fired open-flame burners. Now I have been told by numerous people that having an open flame while moving down the road is illegal, and it totally makes sense, but I would like to know for sure and what rule pertains to it. Can anyone advise as to where I can find this information?

A: State law does say open-flame heaters are allowed on a vehicle when it’s used for heating the cargo of tank motor vehicles. Information on this is under federal statute 49CFR 393.77.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 


When is a placard needed to park?

Q: Both my daughter and I have a disability. I have the handicap license plates on my car and she only has a placard. When she drives my car, does she have to use her placard to park?
A: The registered license plates are designed for you to be able to park that vehicle in a disabled/handicap parking location. If your daughter has her own permit, she would need to display her permit in the vehicle when she is parked in a designated disabled/handicap parking location, as the permit is designed for her.
Any Minnesota resident who meets one or more of the definitions of a “physically disabled person” can apply to obtain a disability certificate or plates.
Disability Certificate (placard):
• Issued to the disabled person, not the vehicle. (A person may qualify for two certificates if they do not have disability license plates.)
• May be displayed on the rear-view mirror or on the dashboard in any vehicle when parked. (The placard should be taken down from the rear view mirror while driving.)
• Can be used to park in designated disability parking spaces when the person named on the certificate is driving or a passenger in the vehicle.
Disability License Plates:
• Issued to a vehicle that is primarily owned by a person with a disability, the parent of a child with a disability or the owner of a commercial rental motor vehicle that has been modified for and is used exclusively by permanently physically disabled people.
A vehicle that is displaying the parking certificate may be parked by or solely for the benefit of a physically disabled person: in a designated disability parking space; in a non-restricted metered parking space without obligation to pay the meter fee, and without regard to time limitation unless otherwise posted; or in a non-metered time-limited passenger-vehicle space unless otherwise posted.
For additional information, go to: www.dps.mn.gov and go to Divisions, Driver and Vehicle Services.
A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 

What are other states doing to make roads safer?

Q: I know Minnesota has made a lot of progress for traffic safety and less people are dying on our roads but what are other states doing?

A: For the first time in nearly a decade, preliminary data from the National Safety Council estimates as many as 40,000 people died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016 across the United States. That’s a 6-percent increase over 2015 and a 14-percent increase compared with 2014 – the most dramatic two-year increase in 53 years.

An estimated 4.6-million roadway users were injured seriously enough to require medical attention, a 7-percent increase over 2015. This means 2016 may have been the deadliest year on the roads since 2007 across the country. However, here in Minnesota the numbers are encouraging. Preliminary reports from the Department of Public Safety Office of Traffic Safety show 392 people died in traffic crashes in 2016, compared with 411 in 2015.

Several states have their own traffic-safety initiatives and programs. Many of them are a part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration programs (such as click it or ticket, bike to school day, work zone awareness week and more).

Minnesota is involved in the Toward Zero Deaths program. The TZD approach is based on the belief that even one traffic-related death on our roads is unacceptable. This “zero deaths” idea was first adopted in Sweden in 1997 as “Vision Zero” and since then has evolved to several state Departments of Transportation, including Minnesota, that have identified zero deaths as a core objective in their Strategic Highway Safety Plans.

TZD uses a data-driven, interdisciplinary approach that applies education, enforcement, engineering, and emergency medical and trauma services to focus on the issue.

While progress has been made in Minnesota, there are still too many people being injured or killed along our roads. There are still way too many driving and failing to take responsibility for their actions when they get behind the wheel and it’s costing people their lives. Alcohol, speed, distractions and lack of seat-belt use remain the top factors in a majority of these crashes. We need to constantly remember what a big responsibility driving truly is and focus 100 percent of the time on the road and drive like our lives depend on it.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 


Can antique vehicles be sold if they do not have a public serial number/VIN?

Q: It is my understanding a number of antique vehicles from the 1930s and 1940s were constructed with serial numbers, now known as Vehicle Identification Numbers (VINs)) pressed into the frame. However, it is my further understanding these vehicles were not constructed with “public” serial numbers or VINs. Can such antique vehicles be sold without a public serial number/VIN?

A: A vehicle does not need a new style public VIN in order to be sold. It can be sold with its original serial number.

A vehicle must have its original identification from when it was manufactured. If it’s missing, it must receive an assigned VIN (blue VIN) from the state of Minnesota for it to be registered and titled. For more information, contact the Driver and Vehicle Services division at dvs.motor.vehicles@state.mn.us

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 


What does a white-and-blue pin represent?

Q: I noticed a white-and-blue pin on a highway patrolman’s uniform where a nametag might usually be, what would that stand for?

A: What you saw was most likely a blue-and-white service bar a Trooper received for a life-saving award. This recognition is awarded to State Patrol employees who perform life-saving acts where there’s no unusual hazard to the employee involved. The award is for incidents where a person’s death was imminent if not for the employee’s actions.

Here are other service bars awarded to State Patrol employees:

Meritorious Service Award (maroon-and-gold service bar) – To qualify for this award, the incident must involve great personal risk and pose hazards that could lead to serious injury or loss of life to the employee.

Valor Award (solid maroon service bar with gold lettering) – The Valor Award is for an outstanding degree of dedication and devotion above and beyond professional duty that involved an imminent and undisputable risk of loss of life to the employee. This award is given for an act or series of acts committed with outstanding courage in a situation that, because of its extraordinary circumstance, placed the employee and/or others in actual physical jeopardy. While exposed to danger, the person must have acted with deliberate intent, exercised judgment and performed competent action that reflects credit and admiration upon the employee and the Minnesota State Patrol. This award may be presented posthumously to the next-of-kin of the employee/enforcement officer who would have received the award.

Purple Heart (purple service bar) – This recognition may be awarded to employees seriously injured or killed from acts of aggression or assaults upon them while performing job-related duties. The person’s injuries must involve a substantial risk of death, permanent disfigurement or protracted loss or impairment of their body’s ability to function. This award may be presented posthumously to the next-of-kin of the employee who would have otherwise received the award.

Gold-and-silver stars are added to the service bar for subsequent awards. These service bars are to be worn above the right chest pocket. The name plate is worn above the left chest pocket, just above the badge.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes.


Reporting persons who run stop signs

Q: My husband was driving while I was a passenger and an elderly man driving ran a stop sign and cut in front of us. My husband honked his horn to alert the driver prior to him attempting to come into our lane. However, he did not appear to hear us. Fortunately, we were able to avoid being hit, as my husband was an alert driver and saw this coming. Is this something we can report? I am not sure if this man should be driving, as he appeared to have no regard for anyone else on the road. I am not sure what police could have done, as there was no accident or injury. I guess I am curious to know what the protocol is in such a situation.

 A: It sounds like your husband was very attentive and because of this, he was able to avoid a crash. This situation is one of the reasons why law enforcement talks about the importance of avoiding all distractions while driving, as you might be able to see a potential hazard or crash before it happens.

If you witness any dangerous driving conduct, call law enforcement and report the incident as soon as possible. Report your location, attempt to get the license-plate number, direction of travel and the driving conduct you are witnessing. We will do our best to get that vehicle stopped before anyone gets hurt. We will talk to the driver and determine if they are/were impaired, distracted, fatigued, valid to drive and the reason for their driving conduct.

Law enforcement officers can send a request for review to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services if they identify a driver who they believe should re-test or be checked by a doctor. DPS-DVS can allow the person to keep driving with increased limitations such as roadway speed, daylight only, certain times of the day or within a set limit of miles from his or her home. They can also require follow-up doctor’s exams.

 Wearing your seatbelt along with avoiding distractions while driving will increase your chances of not being involved in a crash and could save your life. Take driving seriously each time you get behind the wheel.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes.


How are blood relays handled in the state of Minnesota?

Q: I have a question about the Minnesota State Patrol blood relays. Recently, one was performed from the Twin Cities to Red Wing. Why did it involve three patrol officers? I know this isn’t a great distance and have just been wondering what rules or regulations dictate how this is handled.

A: Great question as this story was shared on our Facebook page. The Minnesota State Patrol is divided into districts across the state. Within each district is a station that has an assigned number of troopers.

Troopers will sometimes take the blood relay a great distance depending on how many other troopers are working within the station/district at that time. A number of years ago, I provided a blood relay from Moorhead to Bemidji. Troopers are often tied up with other calls for service (crashes, motorist assists and more), which impacts how the blood is transported.

Time is obviously crucial in these situations so being familiar with the area is critical. Troopers who work their specific district know the area and hospital locations better than troopers from different districts. Troopers making the final leg of the run know the quickest way to get to the hospital while other troopers may not be as familiar with the area.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 


When is it necessary to pull over for a state trooper?

Q: While on the freeway, traffic going the same direction, just wondering if it’s necessary to pull over and stop when the state trooper has his lights on in pursuit of someone?

A: Great question. In my years of patrolling and making traffic stops, responding to emergencies and the occasional pursuit, motorists have generally done a good job in providing us room to go by them, but there were some that were not aware I was behind them with lights and siren. This is possibly due to driver inattention and distraction. This creates a very dangerous situation as I have seen where the driver will notice I am behind them and then they hit the brakes very hard, at freeway speeds, creating a very dangerous situation.

The state law says upon the immediate approach of an authorized emergency vehicle, the driver shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the highway clear of any intersection, and shall stop and remain in this position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer. The driver of another vehicle on a one-way road shall drive to the closest edge or curb and stop.

Every situation varies as an emergency vehicle might be approaching you very quickly and it could be very difficult to come to a complete stop in the short amount of time required to safely do so. What we are asking the motoring public to do when approached by an emergency vehicle is, slow down (don’t apply the brakes hard) and move over to the right and provide us as much room as safely possible to pass you. Come to a complete stop if you have time to do so on the right shoulder or as far right as you can. Once the emergency vehicle has passed you, be alert because other emergency vehicles may be approaching as well, before pulling onto the road again.

This is a great time to talk about reducing and eliminating all distractions while driving as distracted drivers might not be able to see approaching emergency vehicles or other potential hazards until it is too late, resulting in a crash.

By being alert and eliminating all distractions while driving, you will greatly reduce your chances of becoming involved in a crash resulting in an injury or fatality to yourself and others sharing the road.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes.


What items/tools should I have in my car during the winter?

Q: What items should I have in my vehicle during this extreme cold weather? What is the proper procedure if I become stranded and/or go off the road?

A: With the recent below-zero temperatures, being prepared with an emergency kit and plan can save your life.

We recommend the following items be in your vehicle, especially in the winter:

  • Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats.
  • Snow shovel.
  • Flashlight with extra batteries.
  • Window washer solvent.
  • Ice scraper with brush.
  • Cloth or roll of paper towels.
  • Jumper cables.
  • Tow chain or rope.
  • Extra warm clothing (gloves, hats, scarves).
  • Blankets.
  • Warning devices (flares or triangles).
  • Drinking water.
  • Non-perishable snacks for both human and pet passengers.
  • First-aid kit.
  • Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench).
  • Mobile phone and car charger pre-programmed with rescue apps and important phone numbers including family and emergency services.

If stranded, stay in the vehicle and call 911. Provide the dispatcher with the following information:

  • Problem you’re experiencing.
  • Your location (Get in the habit of looking for mile markers and cross streets/roadways).
  • Any injuries to yourself or passengers.
  • Preferred tow company, otherwise the closest approved tow company will be dispatched

At night, keep your dome light on and activate the vehicle’s emergency flashers. Be aware that snow can plug your vehicle’s exhaust system and cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to enter your car so make sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow and keep a window slightly open while the engine is running. Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained and that you have at least a half tank of fuel. Slow down and use winter driving skills to avoid crashing or going off the road.

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes.


What are the various restrictions placed on Minnesota drivers’ licenses?

Q: Can a person legally drive with a neck brace on in Minnesota? It would limit the ability to turn your head side to side or up or down. I’m trying to get facts before I let my family member drive.

A: A person would not be able to legally drive if temporarily wearing a neck brace. Permanent lack of neck mobility would require a restriction placed on the license that notes they can legally drive if there is an “outside rearview mirror.”

For more information on restrictions that may be placed on various types of licenses, please visit https://dps.mn.gov/divisions/dvs/Pages/default.aspx

Below is a complete list of the restrictions that may be placed on various types of licenses.

A – ANY USE OF ALCOHOL OR DRUGS INVALIDATES LICENSE

B – HAND-OPERATED BRAKES

C – COMPLETE HAND CONTROLS

D – PROSTHETIC AID

E – AUTOMATIC TRANS CMV

F – OUTSIDE MIRRORS

G – DAYLIGHT DRIVING ONLY

H – AUTOMATIC TRANS

I – ALSO VALID FOR 3-WHEEL MOTORCYCLE

J – FARM-WORK AND DRIVER-EDUCATION INSTRUCTION PERMIT

K – INTRASTATE ONLY

L – NOT VALID FOR CMVS WITH AIR BRAKES

M – NO CLASS A PASSENGER BUS

N – NO CLASS A AND B PASSENGER BUS

O – NO TRACTOR-TRAILER CMV

P – NO PASSENGERS IN CMV BUS

Q – HAND-OPERATED LIGHT-BEAM CONTROL

R – ELEVATED DRIVER SEAT

U – NO FREEWAY DRIVING

V – FMCSA MEDICAL WAIVER

W – BUS < 24 CAPACITY

X – NO CARGO IN CMV TANK VEHICLE

Y – IGNITION INTERLOCK REQUIRED

Z – AIR OVER HYDRAULIC BRAKE SYSTEM

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 

What items should you store in your car in case of emergency during the winter months?

Q: With the recent temperatures below zero in the area, can you give some tips on what should be in your vehicle and what to do if your car stalls or gets stuck.

A: When the temperatures are well below zero, it can result in a life threatening situation if you are not prepared. Having a safety plan and emergency kit in your vehicle can save your life.

If stranded, stay in the vehicle, and call 911. Provide the dispatcher with the following information:

  • Problem you’re experiencing
  • Your location (Get in the habit of looking for mile markers and cross streets/roadways)
  • Any injuries to yourself or passengers
  • Preferred tow company, otherwise the closest approved tow company will be dispatched

At night, keep your dome light on and activate the vehicle’s emergency flashers.

Be aware snow can plug your vehicle’s exhaust system and cause deadly carbon monoxide gas to enter your car so make sure the exhaust pipe is free of snow and keep a window slightly open while the engine is running.

Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained and that you have at least a half a tank of fuel.

Slow down and use winter driving skills to avoid crashing or going off the road.

Be patient, as law enforcement and the towing companies may be busy with other calls. We will get there as soon as possible.

We recommend the following items be in your vehicle, especially in the winter:

  • Cell phone and car charger
  • Snow shovel
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Window-washer solvent
  • Ice scraper with brush
  • Jumper cables
  • Tow chain or rope
  • Extra warm clothing (gloves, hats, scarves) and blankets
  • Warning devices (flares or triangles)
  • Drinking water
  • Non-perishable snacks for both human and pet passengers
  • First-aid kit
  • Basic toolkit (screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench)
  • Bag of abrasive material (sand, salt, cat litter) or traction mats

A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 

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