Ask a trooper 2013

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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, MN 56501-2205 or follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at,

Is the use of blinkers a state law or only an optional courtesy?

Q: I’m wondering is the use of blinkers a state law or only an optional courtesy? It seems to me while the use of cell phones has increased, the use of blinkers has decreased. Also, if it is a law – in changing lanes or making a turn, at what point should the blinker be put on (how far ahead of the turn?) Thank you!

A: The use of a turn signal is a state law. I would agree with you as the rate of cell phone use while driving along with many other distractions have increased, the use of turn signals has decreased. I’ve been in law enforcement a little more than 16 years (15 of them with the Minnesota State Patrol) and I’ve seen the use of cell phones become more popular and evolve with their use to include texting and internet usage.

We have a law in Minnesota that makes it illegal for drivers to read/compose/send text messages and emails, or access the Internet using a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic – including stopped in traffic or at a traffic light. Still, each year in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one out of every four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries. The Office of Traffic Safety estimates these numbers are vastly underreported due to law enforcement’s challenge in determining distraction as a crash factor; therefore, it can be difficult for law enforcement to determine if a person is doing this while they are driving. However, here is where I’ve found myself less tolerant. Drivers who do not signal their lane changes or turns, or who continually cross over the centerline, are in violation. This becomes a true issue of safety and I find myself issuing more citations for these types of offenses.

As for when should a person signal their intent to turn or change lanes, each situation is slightly different. I would advise good common sense to look at the total picture of location, traffic volume, speeds and highway conditions. Minnesota law states: “A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.”

This is what is listed and taught in the Minnesota Driver’s Manual: “When you wish to change lanes or make a turn, signal with an approved signal device to inform other motorists of your intention. Signals are to be activated at least 100 feet before you make the turn. Continue signaling until you have completed the turn or lane change. It’s often necessary to change lanes in order to make a turn, merge with other traffic or to perform other driving activities. Lane changing can be dangerous and must be done with caution. Make sure you have safe clearance to the side, behind and ahead of your vehicle before moving into another lane. Turn your head in the direction of the lane you are moving into and check for vehicles. If you rely only on mirrors, you may not see vehicles in certain positions, known as blind spots.”



What are the rules for drivers when meeting pedistrians within and outside of crosswalks?

Q: If you are taking a right turn at a light and the light is red, are you supposed to stop? I ask because my daughter and I walk everywhere and a few times we have almost been hit by cars turning right while we had the walk signal.

A: Yes, drivers coming upon a red light and turning right MUST stop.

Q: Are you supposed to stop before a stop sign or is it legal to stop past the stop sign. I have seen a lot of people stop after and into cross walks.

A: Vehicular traffic facing a circular red signal/stop sign alone must stop at a clearly marked stop line before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection and shall remain stopped until legal and safe to proceed through.

Q: Are cars supposed to wait for you to be out of a cross walk or can they pass if there is space for them to go by you. These questions are very important to me as I was already hit by a car while in a park with my daughter. I now have panic attacks when cars come close to me. So if these are legal actions, I will be even more cautious about walking.

A: Here is what the Minnesota State Statute says about pedestrians and vehicles pertaining to crosswalks: “Where traffic-control signals are not in place or in operation, the driver of a vehicle shall stop to yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk. The driver must remain stopped until the pedestrian has passed the lane in which the vehicle is stopped. No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it’s impossible for the driver to yield.”


When an ice fishing house has wheels is it considered a trailer that must be registered?

Q: One of my friends saw me getting my “ice fishing house” ready for the upcoming season. I put permanent wheels on it for easier transport. My buddy told me I now have to register it as a trailer.  I think he is wrong, because I see these going down the road all the time, and I guess I don’t notice registration. What is required anyway, and is my friend right or what? Thanks for any help.

A: Your friend is correct. Fish houses on wheels are now considered trailers and must be registered as such. This is a recent decision within the past few years and we have been trying to get the word out there as much as possible.

Just a few short years ago, officials from Driver and Vehicle Services, the Minnesota State Patrol and the Department of Natural Resources met together and determined a fish house on wheels does in fact meet the requirements of a trailer and must be registered as such as well as comply with all of the normal laws concerning trailers such as lights, wheel fenders, brakes if more than 3,000 pounds and safety chains including size (height and weight) limits.

Also, DVS has notified dealers fish houses on wheels are considered trailers. Anyone in the business of selling them has to have the appropriate dealer’s license. Registration is required for enclosed trailers with cargo doors that haul all-terrain vehicles or other cargo, and are used as a fish house; other trailers manufactured for use as a fish house; recreational trailers used seasonally as a fish house. These vehicles must be registered in one of the trailer classes. Recreational trailers must be registered in the recreational class.

Keep in mind the trailer registration requirement is separate from any fish house license that DNR may require. It is very possible someone who has a fish house on wheels will not only need to have the trailer registration from DVS, but also a fish house license from DNR. For questions about the DNR registration aspects for fish houses, please contact DNR at 888-646-6367. You also can email DNR at


Am I exempt from wearing a seatbelt in a vintage vehicle?

Q: I have a question about the seatbelt law in Minnesota. I own a vintage 1965 Pontiac GTO that was manufactured before Jan.1, 1965. According to the seatbelt law as I read it, this makes my car exempt from the seatbelt requirement. However, after I bought the vehicle, I installed front and rear seatbelts. My friend says because my car is exempt I do not have to wear them and cannot be cited. I do not agree. I think if you have seatbelts, than you must wear them, and can be cited for not wearing them. Who is correct?

A: Thank you for the question and to answer it, your friend is correct. There are a few exemptions from wearing a seatbelt in Minnesota. One of those exemptions states: “a person driving or riding in a passenger vehicle manufactured before Jan. 1, 1965” is exempt.

However, let me commend you on doing the safe and smart thing by installing and wearing the seatbelt. More than 100 unbelted motorists and passengers are killed every year on Minnesota roads. We ask everyone to do their part to reduce these preventable tragedies by buckling up, every ride, every time.

• A seatbelt is the best defense on roads full of uncertainties that include speeding, and distracted and impaired drivers. You may be a safe driver — but is the driver next to you? Buckle up and protect yourself.

• In a crash, odds are six times greater for injury if a motorist is not buckled up.

• In rollover crashes, unbelted motorists are usually ejected from the vehicle. In most cases, the vehicle will roll over the ejected motorist.


What is the proper procedure to pull over when an emergency vehicle is behind you?

Q: What is the proper procedure if you are stopped at a red light and an emergency vehicle with its lights and siren activated comes up behind you? Where do you go to get out of the way?

A: Good question! As frustrating and tempting as it may be to pull into the intersection with a red light – DO NOT DO THAT! Other people can’t run a red light based on an emergency vehicle’s siren and/or emergency lights, so they have to wait until the light turns green and then go, and then move over to the right if possible. If for some reason you have enough room while stopped you should pull over to the right shoulder or left shoulder (if on a multi-laned roadway – which is legal) just as long as it doesn’t require you to enter the intersection.

While responding to emergencies, I have observed drivers trying to squeeze into the intersection in an attempt to create room for the emergency vehicle, but that is not safe or recommended. We will just have to use some patience along with the legal and safe opportunity when the light turns green again.


Are tragic crashes increasing, or have I just taken notice?

Q: I’ve been watching the news more lately. Are tragic crashes increasing, or have I just taken notice?

A: Fatal and injury crashes are on the rise statewide. Approximately 33 percent of these crashes were intersection related: traffic-control violations, right-of-way/failure to yield. Of the 23 injury crashes during that same period, 48 percent were intersection related.

We have not specifically addressed the complexities of the intersection with numerous traffic-safety campaigns running continuously. Obeying traffic-control devices/signs is vital; STOP MEANS STOP – no rolling, no fudging and yellow lights warn us we need to prepare to stop.

When stopped, let your vehicle set back with the tires still; observe traffic, repeatedly scanning until you accurately understand the dynamics in and around the intersection. Always look for construction and changes in signage, and know the more lanes a roadway has, the more consideration is needed. Do not be rushed by other drivers to proceed; it’s never acceptable to let others make your driving decisions.

Vision obstructions and blind spots are inherent in a vehicle’s design, such as the supporting pillars and rearview mirror. It is crucial not to add more obstructions like air fresheners, GPS devices, blinds, logos and dark tinting to name just a few. Driving is a visual affair and requires an unobstructed view to be successful; intersections are no exception.

A pair of fluffy dice hanging from a rearview mirror can block an entire vehicle from view. At night, the glow of a GPS can mute the silhouette of a vehicle even further, rendering it almost invisible. Tinting and baby blinds, for the most part need to go. By trying to create a comfortable environment, you also are increasing the odds of crashing. Portholes carved out of snow or ice with just enough area for the driver to see out are illegal, dangerous and thoughtless.

I am close to belaboring the point; however, I feel it’s important everyone know intersections are a big deal. Obeying traffic-control devices, taking your time and assuring a clear, clean and unobstructed view to the outside will increase your odds of getting home safely.


Are motorists supposed to yield for funeral processions?

Q: Are motorists supposed to yield for funeral processions?

A: Yes. Minnesota State Statute states: “When any funeral procession identifies itself by using regular lights on all cars and by keeping all cars in close formation, the driver of every other vehicle, except an emergency vehicle, shall yield the right-of-way.”

Q: Can a person get a ticket for driving too slow?

A: Yes. The only roadway in Minnesota with an actual posted minimum speed limit is the freeway. Obviously, weather conditions can effect that, and the actual and potential hazards then existing on the highway state a driver must use due care in operating a vehicle. Therefore, traveling under that limit would be legal and encouraged (snow, ice, fog or other).

Here is what Minnesota State Statute says about impeding traffic: “No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede or block the normal and reasonable movement of traffic except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation or in compliance with law or except when the vehicle is temporarily unable to maintain a greater speed due to a combination of the weight of the vehicle and the grade of the highway.”

So, I look at it as how a “normal and reasonable” person would travel on a road. If it’s a clear, sunny day and roads are in good condition, and a motorist is unable to maintain a safe speed, I would have to look into the reason why beyond the violation: impairment (alcohol or drugs, even prescription medications); general physical/health problems; diabetic loss of consciousness or seizures; vision problems; lack of physical driving skills; lack of knowledge of traffic laws; mental or emotional problems (including road rage, memory loss or other); and others.

If one or more of these examples was a factor, re-examination of a driver may very well be needed.


What are the rules regarding using your brights while on the interstate?

Q: What are the rules regarding using your brights while on the interstate?

A:  This is what Minnesota State Statute says:  169.61 COMPOSITE BEAM.

(a) When a motor vehicle is being operated on a highway or shoulder ADJACENT thereto during the times when lighted lamps on vehicles are required in this chapter, the driver shall use a distribution of light, or composite beam, directed high enough and of sufficient intensity to reveal persons and vehicles at a safe distance in advance of the vehicle, subject to the following requirements and limitations.

(b) When the driver of a vehicle approaches a vehicle within 1,000 feet, such driver shall use a distribution of light, or composite beam, so aimed that the glaring rays are not projected into the eyes of the oncoming driver.

(c) When the driver of a vehicle follows another vehicle within 200 feet to the rear

So what this means is whether the road is a two-lane, or a divided road such as a four-lane separated by a median or other barrier, a person still needs to dim for oncoming traffic within 1,000 feet. This would also apply to traffic on frontage roads according to the definitions of adjacent.

1. adjacent – nearest in space or position; immediately adjoining without intervening space;

2. adjacent – having a common boundary or edge; abutting; touching;

3. adjacent – near or close to but not necessarily touching;


Are Amish vehicles required to be lit when driving at night?

Q: I met what I believe was an Amish horse and buggy traveling down the highway in the dark the other night. It did not appear to have any lights or markings. Is this safe or legal?

A: Minnesota State Statute 169.522 requires an illuminated or fluorescent red-orange triangle to be displayed on all animal-drawn vehicles operated on designated roadways. This statute allows a person who objects to the display of the red-orange triangle to apply for a permit for an alternate emblem; however he or she is still required to display the red-orange triangle between sunset and sunrise. Several members of Minnesota’s Amish community object to these requirements based on their religious beliefs. Instead of the emblems, many use the white reflective tape and lighted red lanterns. Members of the Amish community challenged citations issued as a result of the noncompliance-based case of State v. Hershberger, 462 N.W.2d393 (Minn. 1990), which was eventually heard by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Court ruled in favor of the Amish appellants.

Although some additional administrative rules (Chapter 7440) were published in 2001 outlining the alternate-emblem-permit process, nothing in Minnesota State Statute 169.522 has materially changed since this ruling, nor has the ruling been reversed or otherwise overturned.

Amish buggies are considered in compliance with Statute 169.522 provided they display white reflective tape during daylight hours in conjunction with a lighted red lantern from sunset to sunrise or when visibility is impaired (snow, rain, smoke, fog, etc…).

To answer your question as to what you saw, not safe and not legal.


What is the procedure for making a left-turn into a private driveway?

Q: When a person is making a left turn into a private driveway and there is oncoming traffic and a string of cars behind you, what is the proper procedure: wait in the driving lane until the turn can be safely executed, or pull over to the shoulder and let the cars behind you pass? Is it legal to wait on the shoulder? And is it legal for people to pass you on the right? Thanks!

A: The proper procedure is a little more “drawn out” than what you might expect. If you know you are going to make a left turn, signal well in advance. Then, start braking (ahead of time and after you have been signaling, so the drivers behind you can see your signal better and start slowing down, which will make the whole left-turn situation a lot safer for everyone). Then, when you arrive at your left turn destination and you have to wait for oncoming traffic, stay in the traffic lane and keep your front wheels pointed straight (so if you are hit from behind you will not get pushed into oncoming traffic) and just remain there with your left signal on until the oncoming traffic clears.

Never mind the other vehicles behind you, because you have no control over them other than signaling and braking (communicating your intentions). Even though there may be a nice shoulder on the right for you in some areas to pull over and wait on, we do not recommend pulling over there and waiting to make your left turn. Following the information I gave you already here is very good. As far as passing on the right, it is only legal to pass on the right when there is a lane provided, like a bypass lane (and then only if the vehicle you are passing is stopped or stopping to make a left turn) or if you are on a multi-laned road.  Thanks for asking, because this is a very important safety issue, and we all need to work together to create a traffic safety culture in Minnesota.


School bus safety tips for motorists and children

With school starting I wanted to have this article entirely focused on the safety of the most precious cargo in the world – our children. Traffic safety is a two-way street and everyone has an investment.

School bus safety tips for motorists

• Motorists must stop at least 20 feet from a school bus that is displaying red flashing lights and/or its stoparm is extended when approaching from the rear and from the opposite direction on undivided roads.

• Red flashing lights on buses indicates students are either entering or exiting the bus.

• Motorists are not required to stop for a bus if the bus is on the opposite side of a separated roadway (median, etc.) — but they should remain alert for children.

• Altering a route or schedule to avoid a bus is one way motorists can help improve safety. In doing so, motorists won’t find themselves behind a bus and as a result, potentially putting children at risk.

• Watch for school crossing patrols and pedestrians. Reduce speeds in and around school zones.

• Watch and stop for pedestrians — the law applies to all street corners, for both marked and unmarked crosswalks (all street corners) — every corner is a crosswalk.

School bus safety tips for children

Parents should discuss and demonstrate pedestrian safety with their children and reinforce safe crossing after exiting a bus:

• When getting off a bus, look to be sure no cars are passing on the shoulder (side of the road).

• Before crossing the street, take five “giant steps” out from the front of the bus, or until the driver’s face can be seen.

• Wait for the driver to signal it’s safe to cross.

• Look left-right-left when coming to the edge of the bus to make sure traffic is stopped. Keep watching traffic when crossing.


Is there a minimum size of steering wheel allowed in a vehicle?

Q: Is there a minimum size of a steering wheel in a vehicle? There have been some teenagers with jacked up pickups installing very small (lawnmower like) steering wheels. Curious what the law says.

A: There is no law specifically related to steering wheel size. The only issue would be if the mounting of the steering wheel is secure which could become an “unsafe equipment” violation. This statute states, “It is unlawful and punishable as hereinafter provided for any person to drive or for the owner to cause or knowingly permit to be driven on any highway any vehicle or combination of vehicles which is in such unsafe condition as to endanger any person.” Of course this could apply to many other equipment issues also.

I would like to use this opportunity to also talk about “steering wheel knobs.”  I’m asked if these (often referred to as “suicide knobs”) are illegal. They are not illegal in Minnesota. If you perform a quick check on the internet about them, you will often find people claiming they are illegal. However, I believe this is one of those “car myths” that has spread most likely because of the term “suicide” which may have given a negative connotation causing people to assume they were illegal.

In fact, steering wheel knobs are often prescribed to people with applicable disabilities to assist them in the driving of an automobile.


Is it true livestock trailers don’t need to be licensed if used for active farming purposes?

Q: Hello. I appreciate your weekly newspaper column and find it quite informative. I’m hoping you can provide some clarification for me. As I understand it, livestock trailers don’t need to be licensed if they are solely used for active farming purposes (hauling cattle to pasture). Is this correct? How about a livestock trailer used for 4H and purely leisure purposes?

A: As far as trailer registration, this is what Minnesota State Statute says: “168.012 Vehicles exempt from tax or license fees. Subdivision 2a. Small farm trailer. Farm trailers with a gross weight of less than 10,000 pounds, drawn by a passenger automobile or farm truck and used exclusively for transporting agricultural products from farm to farm and to and from the usual marketplace of the owner, shall not be taxed as motor vehicles using the public streets and highways and shall be exempt from the provisions of this chapter.”

A reminder that rear lighting and reflectors are still required along with the proper hookups (hitch, safety chain/cable, etc.)


What are the real facts on marijuana, and can you be arrested for driving after smoking it?

Q:  What are the real facts on marijuana, and can you be arrested for driving after smoking it? How bad is it really? I know some people want to legalize it to tax it and for medicinal purposes. Thanks.

A:  Yes, you can be arrested for impaired driving. Minnesota has already been taxing marijuana since around 1980 (and so we do not have to legalize it to tax it). As far as the medicinal purposes go, we have already had it for several years in Minnesota, although in pill form. Also, there are several other already-legal existing drugs that are reported to have the same (or close to the same) effect as smoking the weed, probably making the legalization of it for that reason unnecessary.

There is much information available in reference to the actual physical harm to the human body and to society as a whole, from smoking marijuana. Marijuana produces a carefree state of mind and the illusion that senses are extra sharp. In reality, you are more likely to be preoccupied with unusual thoughts or visions than your responsibilities as a driver. Relaxed inhibitions alter your sense of time and space, making it difficult to make quick decisions and judge distances and speed. Marijuana use causes slow, disconnected thoughts, poor memory and paranoia. Even hours after the effect seems to be gone, your ability to make driving decisions will still be impaired.

One of the last reports that came out showed that at least 17 percent of persons in addiction treatment are there because of the use of marijuana. It largely has a lot of the same hazardous chemicals that (legal) cigarettes do, and would continue to have those damaging effects even if made legal. Some of the health effects of smoking marijuana are known to include: exposure to known carcinogens (marijuana smoke contains up to 70 percent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke); impaired ability to create new memories; episodes of acute psychosis (from large ingested doses), which can include “hallucinations and a loss of personal identity;”and increased risk of chronic cough and bronchitis. New studies show much worse results for marijuana users.

Marijuana is known accurately as a gateway drug. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more teens were in treatment for marijuana than for all other illicit drugs combined in 2006. Fact: According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2007, in some localities approximately 4 to 14 percent of drivers injured or killed in crashes tested positive for marijuana use. More results from their studies show at least 9 percent of all marijuana users will become addicted; 17 percent of all marijuana users who start using in their teens will become addicted and between 25 to 50 percent of daily marijuana users become addicted.

Other effects are known to include: lower work productivity and earning power; persons functioning at a reduced intellectual level all or most of the time; extra sick days from work; respiratory illnesses; lower grade-point averages; lower yearly earnings; lower levels of educational attainment; poor school attendance; negative attitude toward school; absences; tardiness for school and work; accidents; workers compensation claims; and job turnover. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association examining a certain group of workers showed the marijuana users (compared to non-marijuana users in that vocation) had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries and 75 percent increase in absenteeism.

All figures were received from a marijuana fact sheet put out by the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors of Washington, D.C. in January of 2012. They also cite numerous other sources for their publication. A lot more information is available if you look for it. Just a few weeks ago, I saw in the news a long-term study was recently completed. Not surprisingly, it revealed even more harmful results from smoking marijuana than known ever before.


Are truckers responsible to report criminal observations to police and does this block their cell phones?

Q:  First let me thank you for the service you provide. We also appreciate the column in the newspaper that answers questions for citizens. My question is this: A friend of mine told me their nephew who is a trucker can’t/won’t report any illegal activities he sees in his travels across the United States because if he reports something to 911, his cell phone has been blocked and he won’t be able to use it until he has the phone company unblock it and he doesn’t want to waste his time having this done. I always thought truckers were the eyes and ears for the police and they were supposed to report crimes if they see them happening. Is this true and if so why would that happen to truckers and not to other citizens who report crimes to 911? I’m thinking the friend of mine misunderstood what she heard but wanted to know for sure. Thank you for your input on this subject.

A:  First of all, thank you for the kind words. In reference to drivers of Commercial Motor Vehicles, they are not allowed to use cell phones while driving due to federal law and regulation (unlike our standard passenger vehicles). One of the exemptions is for emergency use which means calling “911.” I’m not sure which company he drives for or their policy, but it seems like it would be a hassle to have to call in and report emergency (crashes, driving complaints and more). Commercial truck and bus companies that allow their drivers to use hand-held cell phones while driving also can be fined; however, they would be exempt as long as it’s an emergency situation. Drivers are allowed to use “hands-free” devices while driving as long as they have everything set up before putting the vehicle in motion. I agree with your statement that truck drivers are the “eyes and ears” of the highway to help law enforcement out if they see an emergency or something suspicious. They’ve been doing this for years and it goes along with the “if you see something, say something” message on reporting suspicious activity. The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management wants every Minnesotan to know they have an opportunity — in fact a responsibility — to help keep their community safer and this includes our highways.


Are city police officers allowed to patrol outside their jurisdictions?

Q: I see a lot of city police officers out of their jurisdictions. Are they allowed to patrol outside the city and stop vehicles?

A: Being I’m not familiar with what municipal police department you are referring to and their policy and procedures I will explain this simply, yes they can. Any “peace officer” with a current and up-to-date Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training license has the ability. Again, this agency will have general limits in place for their operations and patrol but due to the nature of this work, a peace officer can find themselves outside their general jurisdiction due to a variety of opportunities (training, court, warrant/prisoner transports and more).

You may also see many more municipal agencies outside their city during enhanced enforcement Toward Zero Deaths projects for DWI, speed, distracted driving or other. The city, county and state patrol are all partners when working these TZD projects. One of the requirements for all of the agencies that receive grant funding for TZD projects is we work “high visibility” enforcement projects in high-crash areas. It’s a data driven approach to solving crash-causing issues. The areas all of these agencies are working have been identified based on crash data and, specifically, crash severity. By working together even outside of our normal jurisdictions, we create a much more visible patrol presence (the number one best way to gain voluntary compliance) even with the limited resources many agencies are faced with. In greater Minnesota, one agency alone cannot typically provide enough staffing for these projects and that is why we work as partners. It puts extra law enforcement officers out on patrol to focus on traffic safety while the regular-shift officers take the normal calls for service peace officers provide.  Traffic safety is everyone’s business and is not just limited to a specific jurisdictional area. By working with our city and county law enforcement partners, we are creating a much safer environment in specific areas that have high crash and severity rates.


What are W plates in Minnesota and how does one ‘earn’ one?

Q: I am wondering about the “W” (Whiskey) plates we see in Minnesota. What does it take to “earn” one? How long are they to be used? What are the fines and other penalties that accompany these types of plates?

A:  I believe Minnesota started using “whiskey” or “special registration” plates back in the mid- to late-1990s. I think the first set was a “WX” followed by four numbers that has since cycled through many times over using a “W” followed by another letter, then four more numbers. Minnesota averages about 30,000 DWI arrests each year and one out of seven drivers had a DWI violation on their record. One in 17 has two or more and one in 37 has three or more. My understanding is this is to alert law enforcement and the public that either the person driving the vehicle or someone that had driven the vehicle was guilty of an “enhanced” DWI violation.

How does a person “earn” a set of these? A few ways from a DWI offense, including:

• A second DWI violation within 10 years.

• A DWI violation while having an alcohol concentration of twice the legal limit (.16 or more).

• A DWI violation while having a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle if the child is more than 36 months younger than the offender.

• A violation by a person whose driver’s license or driving privileges have been canceled under Minnesota Statute section 171.04 , Canceled Inimical to Public Safety (Multiple DWI violations).

How long must these special registration plates be on the car? Special registration plates issued must be displayed for at least one year from the date of incident. In some cases, special registration plates must be displayed for much longer than one year (multiple DWI offenses and other driving without a license violations).

What are the fines and other penalties that accompany these special registration plates? A person who is guilty of a DWI offense that would require needing special registration would be a gross misdemeanor and punishable of up to a $3,000 fine and/or one year in jail.


Is Minnesota State Patrol still conducting Legionville School Patrol Camp?

Q: I would like to know more about Legionville School Patrol Camp.  I know it’s been going for a long time, and I wonder about its current status, and if the State Patrol is still involved. Thanks.

A:  There is a lot of information about Legionville School Patrol Training Camp. The camp is where school patrol students are taught the fundamentals of school patrol and school bus patrol. It’s located just north of Brainerd, and is operated by the American Legion, using State Patrol Troopers as instructors.  It’s believed to be the only school patrol training camp in the world.

This summer, it’s celebrating 75 years of instruction and is going on right now until the middle of August. It actually started 77 years ago in 1936, but because of World War II, they missed instructing in 1942 and 1943. The ‘old familiar barn’ is gone. A new one is being constructed and will be completed in time for the 2014 season of instruction.

School Patrol training itself was started (informally) back in 1920, when Sister Carmella asked the older boys to help the younger children cross the streets from school in St. Paul.

Earle Brown (former  Minnesota governor and former Minnesota “highway patrol” chief),  formalized the program and got the Highway Patrol (now called Minnesota State Patrol since about 1974) involved with the instruction at the Earle Brown Farm in the Twin Cities. Based on records from American Legion personnel, the training locations also included the Crow Wing County Fairgrounds, Camp Ripley and the present Legionville location north of Brainerd, (southwest of Merrifield).

Besides school patrol and school bus-patrol training by troopers, other instructors help complete the week with swimming, canoeing, first-aid training and many other activities and games. The camp is a very active place. Parents can pay for their kids to go, even though there are also some limited numbers of scholarships available each year through the local schools, State Patrol Troopers Association, local American Legion posts and many other venues.

This year, the camp runs from the middle of June, until the middle of August. Legionville has a website if you want to know more than what I am writing about:


Are drivers allowed to drive barefoot?

Q:  Since it’s summer time and I’m spending a lot of time at the beach with the kids I often jump in my car to go home and don’t put my sandals back on. Is this legal? Can I drive barefoot or would I get a ticket?

A :  This is a good question that I’m asked fairly often. Driving a motor vehicle barefoot in Minnesota is LEGAL. I must say prudent footwear can be safer, especially when you’re operating a motorcycle, moped or even a car.

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, MN 56501-2205 or follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at,


Is there a law prohibiting irrigation systems from spraying on highways?

Q: What is the law (if there is one) concerning the farmers irrigation system spraying water on the highway and having to drive through it. To me it’s a hazard for automobiles (hydroplaning etc.) and extremely dangerous for motorcycles.

A: This is a good one as I received three similar questions on this very topic this week.  Through my research, I was unable to locate any law or statute that specifically states it’s illegal for an irrigation system to spray water on a highway; however, I did find this in Minnesota State Statute 160.2715:

(1) obstruct any highway or deposit snow or ice thereon;

(2) plow or perform any other detrimental operation within the road right-of-way

Violation of this statute is a misdemeanor.  It’s my opinion if enough water was deposited onto the highway, this statute may apply.  “Obstruct any highway” does not only mean “to block” but “to hinder from passage” and “impede.”  As for “detrimental” meaning “obviously harmful,” if the water standing on the road caused more than a wet roadway – enough to hydroplane and thus cause a crash – this too would be an issue.

I would encourage anyone who observes a safety issue on a roadway to report it as quickly as possible so the proper road authority can address it as soon as possible.

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, MN 56501-2205 or follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at,


Is farming equipment licensed for road travel in the same way a passenger car or truck is?

Q: Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of large tractors and other mobile farming equipment being driven on highways and other well-traveled roads, and I’m curious is this legal? Is farming equipment licensed for road travel in the same way a passenger car or truck is?

A: Good topic and questions. As far as tractors and other mobile farming equipment being driven on the highways and other roads it is legal. Traffic laws DO still apply (stop signs, right of way and more).  License and registration are not necessarily needed on this type of equipment. But overall common sense and safety will always be required.  This is a good reminder for everyone to pay attention and to drive the speed limit.

What do various construction signage messages mean?

It’s the time of year where road construction mandates temporary signage – local traffic only, road closed, no through traffic – restricting or detouring traffic. I contacted MNDOT Engineer Scott Thompson to define what it all means.

“Road Closed to Through Traffic” or “Local Traffic Only” tells you that you need to take a different route and should only cross the barrier if you have no other option to reach your destination within the restricted area. For example, if the driveway to your home, worksite, a friend or relative’s home can only be accessed on the restricted roadway you are “Local Traffic” and not “Through Traffic.” If your destination is outside the restricted area, you must take another route and not go through.

“Road Closed” means just that; you cannot enter or cross the barrier;  if you try you may not get through, you may damage road work, get stuck and/or be subject to a citation. MNDOT explained it would not typically put up a “Road Closed” if access was needed. Even emergency vehicles generally have to re-route around a closed road.

MNDOT “Detour” routes use paved roads, which can handle the weight of the detoured traffic while not violating load restrictions, and they focus on the shortest and most direct route. For those thinking they know better than MNDOT keep in mind if you stray from the detour odds are great you will arrive at a dead end, get stuck on gravel roads, get lost and travel further. When drivers go off detours MNDOT and the state patrol begin getting complaints about the unusual traffic, vehicles using driveways to turn around and people requesting directions.

“Traffic Control Change Ahead” warnings are placed in advance of a change in traffic control devices – for instance, if stoplights were removed or stop signs are added, deleted or set up differently. These signs are important to heed, as you do not want to go through an intersection assuming the traffic control is the same – a habitual response to these intersections or road changes could be tragic.

It’s a violation and a citation can be written if you violate these lawful directions. Fines can be more than $100. If during winter, a driver crosses a barrier or gate to access a winter-storm-closed roadway you will be in for a fine and a bill if you need to be rescued – up to $10,000.

MNDOT seriously considers what signs to put up and where – you can trust they have done their homework and it’s in the driver’s best interest to regard posted signs.


What are the ramifications if someone is stopped for drinking and has a child in the vehicle?

Q: I was wondering if you could let me know what the legal ramifications are if someone is stopped for drinking with a child in a vehicle.

A:  If a driver is arrested for “driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs” and has a child in the vehicle it would enhance the violation.

• First offense DWI under a 0.20: 90 days in jail and/or $1,000 fine.

• First offense DWI under a 0.20 with a child: 1 year in jail and/or $3,000 fine.

• First offense DWI over a 0.20:  1 year in jail and/or $3,000 fine.

• First offense DWI over a 0.20 with a child: 1 year in jail and/or $3,000 fine *Vehicle forfeited

Is there any difference in DWI and DUI? How about the fines?

Q: Is there any difference in DWI and DUI? How about the fines?

A: Essentially they are the same thing. My understanding is that years ago the term “DWI” stood for “Driving While Intoxicated.” As time went on it was just more than “intoxicating alcohol” we were dealing with, but drugs. So “DUI” was added to be more accurate to cover “Driving Under the Influence” of alcohol or drugs.  I suppose “Driving While under the Influence” could also apply and why both are still used.

As far as fines here is some more information:

• Minnesota’s legal alcohol-concentration driving limit is 0.08 — but motorists can be arrested for DWI at lower levels.

• The consequences for driving impaired will vary for each DWI offender, but a typical penalty for a first-time offender is potential jail time and loss of license for a minimum of 30 days up to a year.

• Repeat DWI offenders, as well as first-time offenders arrested at 0.16 and above alcohol-concentration level, must use ignition interlock in order to regain legal driving privileges, or face at least one year without a driver’s license. Offenders with three or more offenses are required to use interlock for three to six years, or they will never regain driving privileges. Interlock helps to ensure sober driving to keep roads safe and reduce re-offenses.

• Costs can be as high as $20,000 when factoring court costs, legal fees and increased insurance premiums.

The fight against impaired driving is everyone’s responsibility:

• Have a plan for a sober ride before you party.

• Use safe alternatives — designate a sober driver; take a cab or public transportation; or crash on a friend’s couch, so you don’t crash on the road.

• Report impaired driving — if you see erratic driving (swerving, driving too slow or other); find a safe place to call 911. Be prepared to provide location, driver behavior, and most importantly, a license plate.

There is a law in Texas that children cannot ride in the front seat. What is correct in Minnesota?

Q: We live in Minnesota six months and Texas six months. In Texas, children (infants) are not allowed to ride in the front seat of a car or truck.  I’ve noticed, in Minnesota children in the front seat is common. What is correct in Minnesota?

A: Minnesota does not have a law prohibiting this. It is considered safest and the best practice to keep children in the back seat until they reach age 13. Some states do prohibit transporting children in the front seat until they are 13 years old. A reminder that a vehicle is the most dangerous place for children — and crashes are the leading killer of children under age 14. Even for those “quick trips,” crashes and safety do not take a break from ANYONE!

Minnesota statute requires children 8 and younger to ride in a federally approved carseat or booster, unless the child is 4 feet 9 inches or taller. Here are the restraint steps a child should progress through as they age and grow:

• Rear-facing infant seats — Newborns to at least 1 year and 20 pounds; recommended up to age 2. It is safest to keep a child rear-facing as long as possible.

• Forward-facing toddler seats — Age 2 until around age 4. It’s preferable to keep children in a harnessed restraint as long as possible.

• Booster seats — Use once child outgrows a forward-facing harnessed restraint; safest to remain in a booster until 4 feet 9 inches tall, or at least age 8.

• Seat belts — A child is ready for an adult seat belt when they can sit with their back against the vehicle seat, knees bent comfortably and completely over the vehicle seat edge without slouching, and feet touching the floor. Children 4 feet 9 inches tall or taller can correctly fit in a lap/shoulder belt.

Learn more at

Must a retired firefighter relinquish fire plates?

Q: I am a volunteer firefighter for an area fire department and getting close to retiring.  I have fire plates on my vehicles and was wondering what the law states as a retired firefighter. Do I need to relinquish my plates or can I have fire plates forever. I thought I once heard after retiring you must turn them in for regular plates. I know many retired firefighters in my area still have them and was wondering if they need to be relinquished and whose responsibility is it to see they do.

A:  This is what Minnesota State Statute says. “Special plates issued under this subdivision may only be used during the period the owner of the motor vehicle is a member of a fire department as specified in this subdivision. When the individual to whom the special plates were issued is no longer a member of a fire department or when the motor vehicle ownership is transferred, the owner shall remove the special plates from the motor vehicle. If the commissioner receives written notification an individual is no longer qualified for these special plates, the commissioner shall invalidate the plates and notify the individual of this action. The individual may retain the plate only upon demonstrating compliance with the qualifications of this subdivision. Upon removal or invalidation of the special plates, or special motorcycle plate, either the owner or purchaser of the motor vehicle shall obtain regular plates or a regular motorcycle plate for the proper registration classification for the motor vehicle.”

Once you are retired or no longer an active firefighter, you would need to obtain regular license plates for your vehicle.  If you are in compliance I understand you can keep your license plates for personal/novelty purposes (hanging on your house/garage wall, etc.) but overall you will need regular license plates on your vehicle.  Ultimately it is the owner’s responsibility to do this.  I believe some of the local fire chiefs have notified the commissioner this person is now retired or no longer with the department.  I also know the State Patrol has even received some tips from the public for people that were not in compliance with this.
Does Minnesota have a law that requires headlights on when you have your wipers on?

Q: With all the rainy days we’ve had lately, I just have to ask doesn’t Minnesota have a law that requires headlights if you have your wipers are on?  How does that relate to automatic daytime running lights?  Those don’t seem to activate taillights or trailer lights.

A:  Minnesota does have a law requiring drivers to have their headlights on. Windshield wipers being on alone, does not require headlights to be activated, but chances are the reason you are using your wipers is due to the weather which according to Minnesota State Statute would require you to have them on.

M.S.S. 169.48 Subd.1 Lights to be displayed. (a) Every vehicle upon a highway within this state:

1. at any time from sunset to sunrise;

2. at any time when it’s raining, snowing, sleeting or hailing; and

3. at any other time when visibility is impaired by weather, smoke, fog or other conditions or there is not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead;

shall display lighted headlamps, lighted tail lamps and illuminating devices.

You bring up a good point of thought. A lot of vehicles are equipped with automatic “daytime” lights that are fine on clear and sunny days. But when there is rain, snow, sleet, hail, smoke, fog or other inclement weather, the sensor may not activate the lights to the rear. Every driver is still responsible for turning those on. I strongly suggest getting out of the vehicle and walking entirely around and making sure those are all working.  It’s not so you can see better, but so others you are sharing the road with can see you.
Please clarify pedestrian and bicycle safety rules

Q: I know the Minnesota pedestrian law says pedestrians in crosswalks have right-of-way; and I totally agree. My concern is many times I see people jay-walking in the middle of the block, quite often parents hanging onto kids; and they are expecting traffic to stop for them. Unfortunately, most times traffic continues past because they are not in a crosswalk, which leaves the pedestrians in a serious danger zone. Second safety issue: perhaps people should be reminded of personal safety when riding bikes or walking along roadways with no sidewalks.  Many times lately, I’ve seen bikes going against traffic and pedestrians walking with traffic, both of which are exactly opposite to personal safety.

A:  These are all great topics and a reminder is good for everyone. You are correct as for as Minnesota law stating pedestrians have the right-of-way but I’d really like to emphasize pedestrian safety is a two-way street. Minnesota law and good common senses states:

• Motorists must treat every corner and intersection as a crosswalk, whether it’s marked or unmarked, and drivers must stop for crossing pedestrians.

• Pedestrians must obey traffic-control devices, and when no traffic-control device is present, motorists must stop for crossing pedestrians within a marked crosswalk or at an intersection with no marked crosswalk.

To address your second safety issue you have that correct also.  Bicyclists must:

• Ride on the road, and must ride in the same direction as traffic.

• Obey all traffic control signs and signals, just as motorists.

• Signal your turns and ride in a predictable manner.

• Use a headlight and rear reflectors when it’s dark.

Pedestrians are reminded to walk facing traffic. Each year in Minnesota, approximately 30 pedestrians and 10 bicyclists are killed as a result of collisions with motor vehicles. These type of collisions are preventable and do not need to be part of the annual reality. Increasing awareness of pedestrian safety will help reduce pedestrian-vehicle crashes, as well as reduce the fatalities and serious injuries that result from these crashes. Bicyclists and motorists are equally responsible for safety. Many factors contribute to crashes including inattention and distractions. For more information, visit


Do you know what happens in the first fatal second after a car going 55 mph hits a solid object?

Q:  There is an article I have seen printed numerous times throughout the years by different venues stating what happens in the first second of a fatal crash. I haven’t seen it for a while now, but I was always wondering if it was accurate or just made up or what. Is that something you can find for me and check it out? Either way I thank you for whatever you can do.

A:  Perfect timing, I am familiar with it and I found an old copy. There is no author stated on it anywhere so I don’t know where it originated and can’t give credit. It has made its rounds on email accounts around the globe besides being in print. While I can’t confirm exactly how accurate this depiction is (many variables would alter the outcome of a crash depending on speed, location of impact, car safety features and more), it does reflect the violent nature of a crash when a motorist is not buckled up. The moral of the story is: “You may choose to break the law and not buckle up, but you can’t break the laws of physics.” I am sure someone out there might know the original source. At any rate, here it is for you as I have it:

Do you know what happens in the first fatal second after a car going 55 mph hits a solid object?

1. In the first 10th of a second, the front bumper and grill collapse.

2. The second 10th finds the hood crumbling, rising and striking the windshield as the spinning rear wheels lift from the ground. Simultaneously, fenders begin wrapping themselves around the solid object. Although the car’s frame has been halted, the rest of the car is still going 55 mph. Instinct causes the driver to stiffen his legs against the crash, and they snap at the knee joint.

3. During the third 10th of the second, the steering wheel starts to disintegrate and the steering column aims for the driver’s chest.

4. The fourth 10th of the second finds two feet of the car’s front end wrecked, while the rear end still moves at 35 mph. The driver’s body is still traveling at 55 mph.

5. In the fifth 10th of a second, the driver is impaled on the steering column, and blood rushes into his lungs.

6. The sixth 10th of a second, the impact has built up to the point the driver’s feet are ripped out of tightly laced shoes. The brake pedal breaks off. The car frame buckles in the middle. The driver’s head smashes into the windshield as the rear wheels, still spinning, fall back to the earth.

7. In the seventh 10th of a second, hinges rip loose, doors fly open and the seats break free, striking the driver from behind.

8. The seat striking the driver does not bother him because he is already dead. The last three 10ths of a second mean nothing to the driver.
What is the law that explains where you have to go or what you need to do before answering your phone while driving?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q: I was driving on the interstate when my phone rang. I pulled off onto the shoulder to take the call, which I thought was the responsible thing to do. As I sat there, a state trooper pulled up behind me; the trooper came to my car and asked if I was having a problem. I told him I was fine, just answering my phone. He told me it was illegal to stop on the shoulder to answer the phone. I needed to drive to the next exit and get off the interstate before answering it. I was amazed to find this was the law. What is the law that explains where you have to go or what you need to do before answering your phone while driving?

A: Great question for a great topic! Let me commend you for thinking about safety first and attempting to do the right thing to avoid distracted driving.

First and foremost, I need to clarify the law. Being this was an interstate, Minnesota law does not allow motorists to stop on a freeway unless it’s for an emergency. Signs are posted at all entrance ramps onto the freeway. Pedestrians, bicycles, motorized bicycles and non-motorized traffic also are prohibited on the freeway. We encourage motorists to find a safe place to exit and utilize their phones from there. The main reason stopping along a freeway is a safety issue is due to the high speeds and the fact there is not a lot of room for error.

Another common issue troopers deal with is the numerous passers-by that call into dispatch to report a “possible” stalled, occupied vehicle. A trooper is then sent to the reported location to either find someone talking on their phone or no longer at the site. Instances like this prevent us from utilizing our resources as efficiently as possible. On other roadways, I would always encourage a motorist to find a safe place to pull over.
What are the rules for changing your address on your driver’s license?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q:  I don’t know if you ever wrote about this, but could you do an article talking about change of address on driver’s licenses? As an officer, I come in contact with a lot of people who are unaware of the 30-day requirement for change of address. It might be a good thing to talk about in-state address changes as well as the new resident requirements for getting a Minnesota driver’s license. Thanks for whatever you can do.

A:  I often come across them too. M.S.S. 171.11 states in part, “When any person, after applying for or receiving a driver’s license, shall change permanent domicile from the address named in such application or in the license issued to the person, or shall change a name by marriage or otherwise, such person shall, within 30 days thereafter, apply for a duplicate driver’s license upon a form furnished by the department and pay the required fee…..”
M.S.S. 171.02 Subdivision 1(a) says in part, “Except when expressly exempted, a person shall not drive a motor vehicle upon a street or highway in this state unless the person has a valid license under this chapter for the type or class of vehicle being driven.

M.S.S. 171.03 (g) refers to those exempt by saying, “Any person who becomes a resident of the state of Minnesota and who has in possession a valid driver’s license issued to the person under and pursuant to the laws of some other state or jurisdiction or by military authorities of the United States may operate a motor vehicle as a driver, but only for a period of not more than 60 days after becoming a resident of this state, without being required to have a Minnesota driver’s license as provided in this chapter.” In reference to commercial driver’s licenses, M.S.S. 171.03(h) adds, “Any person who becomes a resident of the state of Minnesota and who has in possession a valid commercial driver’s license issued by another state or jurisdiction in accordance with the standards of Code of Federal Regulations, title 49, part 383, is exempt for not more than 30 days after becoming a resident of this state.”

There are a lot of reasons why we need the driver’s license to be correct. One big reason is when officers encounter persons at scenes of incidents and they are unconscious or even deceased, we may need to notify family members and we often look at the driver’s license to obtain next of kin information. It can be very beneficial to you or your family if you have your driver’s license address current. In most cases, the fee for changing your address on your driver’s license is less than the fee for getting it originally or renewing it. Thanks for asking. Minnesota State Statutes are copyrighted and portions of statutes were used with permission of the Office of the Revisor of Statutes.



Is window tint legal off the reservation if the vehicles are registered with tribal plates and there’s no window tint ordinance on the reservation?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q: Please, can you tell me, is window tint legal off the reservation if the vehicles are registered with tribal plates and there’s no window tint ordinance on the reservation either? Thank you.

A: No it’s not legal to violate the state window tint laws, tribal plates or not. One county prosecutor in Minnesota recently took a tribal-issue-traffic-law case all the way to the Minnesota State Supreme Court, and I spoke personally with that prosecutor on this. The ruling means all tribal members with or without tribal band plates have to abide by all Minnesota laws and rules, including traffic, and including window tint laws while off the reservation or even on the reservation if they are driving on a state highway. (Not sure about county roads on a reservation land though; that has not been tried in the courts to the knowledge of the prosecutor I spoke with.)

You didn’t ask, but I will tell you the most common violation I’ve seen is band members who live off the reservation and still have band plates. That is against the law, and they need Minnesota registration. Also, band plates or not, living off the reservation or not, they need to obey all state laws for equipment, insurance, traffic laws and driver’s license. Band members on other band reservations are not exempt from violations on those other reservations either.
How do troopers, deputies and city police like the new style of intersections where drivers can’t go straight across another roadway, but instead have to take a right and go down a ways, then turn around and then make a right turn again?  Also, what is the deal: left turns are bringing traffic away from the regular lanes of traffic and you are in that lane for longer than normal?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q:  How do troopers, deputies and city police like the new style of intersections where drivers can’t go straight across another roadway, but instead have to take a right and go down a ways, then turn around and then make a right turn again?  Also, what is the deal: left turns are bringing traffic away from the regular lanes of traffic and you are in that lane for longer than normal?

A:  I can’t speak for everyone, but we should love them because they reduce crashes, injuries and deaths.  I realize some people don’t seem to like them at first, but they get use to them. You have to understand those types of intersections you are seeing or talking about are a result of a lot of studies and planning. They are commonly referred to by those in the traffic safety world as reduced-conflict intersections.

These intersections are safer and they are faster to build and they reduce the chances of crashes. When compared to a typical four-lane divided intersection where there are 42 conflict points, there are only 24 conflict points in a typical reduced-conflict intersection, making them much safer than normal intersections. You can copy and paste this website below in your favorite online search engine and you will see how these types of intersections work and the value they have in traffic safety:

You can also see a great sample of a recent intersection project by going to:

As for the left turn part of these intersections, it brings the vehicles in a position where they can see oncoming traffic better and eliminates the opportunity for the “last-second turner” and prevents crashes. They are longer too, to handle more turning vehicles. Thanks for asking and giving us the opportunity to give our perspective as well as the facts.

Regarding refuse vehicles: Is it legal to drive standing up with no seat belt on? Also can they drive on the wrong side of the road on city streets? 

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q: I have a question on garbage trucks.  Is it legal to drive standing up with no seat belt on? Also can they drive on the wrong side of the road on city streets?  What can one do to stop it?

A: Standing up would be against the law – although there’s no specific law against it, it could be deemed as careless driving. I believe some of them are exempt from the seat-belt law conditionally, if conditions are met according to the law:

169.686 Subd. 2.Seat-belt exemptions.

This section shall not apply to:(4) a person who is actually engaged in work that requires the person to alight from and re-enter a motor vehicle at frequent intervals and who, while engaged in that work, does not drive or travel in that vehicle at a speed exceeding 25 mph.

No they can’t drive on the wrong side of the road, that’s against the law and there are no exceptions that I am aware of. You can call the company and complain, and you could call law enforcement who has jurisdiction in that location (i.e.: sheriff, local police) and ask them to enforce the law on that.

What is the law concerning funeral processions?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q:  What is the law concerning funeral processions?  I see them once in a while and some drivers pull over, some mix right in with the funeral procession.  I just think there are a lot of people who don’t know what to do, and if you could address the rule on this it might help.

A:  I’d be glad to. Minnesota State Statute (M.S.S.)  169.20, subdivision 6 says, “When any funeral procession identifies itself by using regular lights on all cars and by keeping all cars in close formation, the driver of every other vehicle, except an emergency vehicle, shall yield the right-of-way.” We don’t have a definition of “funeral procession” in the statutes other than what is provided in this statute, but we do have a definition of right-of-way. M.S.S. 169.011, subdivision 66 says, “Right-of-way means the privilege of the immediate use of highway.”

We all need to use common sense when encountering a funeral procession. Sometimes the vehicles in the procession may not be driving close enough together to be easily identified as a funeral procession or perhaps some (if not several) of the vehicles in the procession don’t have their headlights on. We have heard of complaints of vehicles coming up from behind a procession and trying to pass some or all of the vehicles or cutting in the procession. Those kinds of actions should be avoided and are probably a violation of law or at least a disrespectful act, if not. When meeting a procession on a two-lane road, I always pull over and stop. At the very least, a driver should slow down and move toward the right of their lane in cases like these. Officers will often be at intersections where there are stoplights or stop signs and assist funeral processions as requested by the funeral director.

Thanks for asking about this. Hopefully this brief discussion will do some good. All of us need to work together to ensure a safe environment on our roadways. Slow down, buckle up, drive sober and pay attention.

Could you explain the zipper merge for merging into construction zones in Minnesota?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q: Could you explain the zipper merge for merging into construction zones in Minnesota? Is it law or just a rule of thumb? The Minnesota Department of Transportation website explains some of this, but leaves out some information. Also, I have tried using the zipper merge many times. It seems hardly anyone else on the road knows about it. While doing it, I seem to irritate many other drivers who have merged into the open lane way before the actual merge, even to the point of being blocked from proceeding in the lane that’s about to close. If another driver intentionally blocks a lane, isn’t that impeding traffic? What are the fines for impeding traffic?

A: The “zipper merge” is a Department of Transportation idea.  It’s not necessarily law, but it is “within” the applicable laws for that situation and it’s more than just a “rule of thumb.” It’s what we’re teaching drivers in all class formats, for example, driver education, defensive driving and more. This came about several years ago and is getting a lot more attention as years of education and experience come to fruition.  More and more people are finding out about it all the time and it will get better as time goes on.  Hopefully this will help, especially with road-construction season beginning.

As an example, if you are driving in the right lane on a four-lane highway and you see a “left-lane closed ahead” sign, be prepared to allow those vehicle in the left lane to come over into the right lane. Keep in mind the left lane is open until it’s actually closed. That means vehicles can legally stay in that left lane until they reach the spot where there are barrels, barricades and usually a “merge here” type of sign. Then, the left- and right-lane vehicle drivers should take turns getting through that merge spot, in a “zipper” type format. This is what we all need to do to prevent road rage and to make traffic flow smoother even if you don’t agree with it.

Some people have argued it slows down traffic more than just letting everyone fend for themselves and we should make everyone get into the right lane sooner (in that example). Studies show the “zipper merge” works the best to keep traffic flowing, especially when there is a lot of traffic. The “zipper merge” also helps prevent road rage from drivers who intentionally go slow in the lane that is closing, and blocking other drivers from passing or getting through. That is against the law. Lane blocking or impeding traffic fines are approximately $139 and the offense goes on your driving record. We are watching out for lane blockers in all situations.

How long does a written warning ticket stay on your record? 

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q: How long does a written warning ticket stay on your record?

A: A paper warning does not go on your driving record. According to the Driver and Vehicle Services, speeding tickets generally stay on record for five years, serious speeds are 10 years.

With that being said, each year, illegal or unsafe speed is a leading contributing factor in Minnesota’s fatal crashes — accounting for at least 130 deaths annually, of which 70 percent occur on rural, two-lane roads in Minnesota. Young adult motorists are the most common offenders and those at greatest risk.
Is there a law against suddenly opening doors?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow – Minnesota State Patrol

Q: When I am driving in some towns, I have had to slam on my brakes many times to avoid hitting someone’s car door, which they have opened up right in front of me. I thought there was a law against this. If there is, would you please write about it?

A: Sure, no problem. Yes there is a law on this. Minnesota State Statute 169.315 states, “No person shall open any door on a motor vehicle unless and until it’s reasonably safe to do so and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.” The law goes on to say, “No person shall allow any door on the side of a vehicle adjacent to moving traffic to remain open for a period of time longer than necessary to load or unload passengers.” It should be needless to say serious injuries or death could be the result of someone’s carelessness in these types of circumstances.

We need to slow down and be especially observant when driving in an area that has cars stopping or parking with people getting in and out of their vehicles. Safety is our number-one goal, no matter what the situation is, including hitting someone’s car doors.
How fast can I drive before getting stopped? Is there a tolerance?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol

Q: How fast can I drive before getting stopped? Is there a tolerance?

A: The short answer is no. The reality is that there is no set allowance for speed by officers except the speed limit or to the conditions.  I have been asked that question more than most other questions.  Simply, State Patrol policy does not allow for any speeds in excess of the posted limit.

Officers have to go by their departmental policy, the totality of circumstances and all other conditions (road, weather, lighting and traffic) and common sense.  Speeding and driving too fast for the conditions is discouraged by law enforcement everywhere.

People have to understand that speeding kills, and more speed kills more.  For every 10 miles per hour you drive over the speed limit, your chances of getting seriously injured or killed if you are in a crash are doubled.  So, just by driving 70 mph, your chances of getting seriously injured or killed are four times greater than when you are driving 50 mph.  Remember too that fines double when going 20 or more over the limit and if you are going over 100 mph, you can lose your license for up to six months.
Are farm licenses still issued?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol

Q:  Is there still such a thing as a farm license? I remember some of my friends having one but that was a long time ago and they basically used it to drive all the time.

A:  Yes, there is still a restricted farm-work license in Minnesota. The statute is M.S.S. 171.041. Young persons are eligible for this at age 15 in Minnesota, although other states might have different age restrictions. The license can be used solely to assist parents or guardians with farm work only during daylight hours and within 20 miles of the farmhouse. The restricted farm-work license may not be used to drive to or from school, or in a city with a population of more than 100,000 people.

As an interesting note, during my career virtually every single one of the young persons I have stopped that were using the restricted farm-work license was using it unlawfully. I have heard the same thing from many other officers throughout the years. I even attended a fatal crash caused by a 15-year-old person who was driving (unlawfully) with only the restricted farm-work license.

Parents are strongly urged to consider all the facts and restrictions before allowing their teen to obtain a restricted farm-work license and to monitor its use very carefully if their teen has one. Most of these teens have had virtually no formal driver training and this can make for a very dangerous situation on our roadways. Teens are much safer when the parents are involved in the driver instruction. This also allows the teen to become a much better driver. Remember, the number one cause of death for teens is motor-vehicle crashes.


May I post a temporary sign for snow removal when plowing a blind driveway?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol

Q: I recently moved back to Minnesota I bought a big bad truck and a snow plow. I now have more friends than I ever knew! I plow for friends and family but am not a professional, I do not charge for such, I get the occasional bakery treat for my work!  My mom lives in rural St. Louis County on a gravel county road with a blind driveway both ways. There is no signage posted as such. Though I am always careful when at the end of her driveway, it’s always on my mind I will could get  T-boned one of these days by someone driving too fast, (seems everyone on this road is going too fast). May I post a temporary sign, on her property? It would be in the shoulder right of way, stating “Caution Snow Removal In Progress” or something similar and then take it down after I am done plowing? As is, one day there will be a collision I fear.

A:  If it’s in the right of way, no. If it is on private property away from the right of way, yes. Having said that let me make some comments about the situation. First of all, thanks for wanting to be safe!  I don’t think a sign would be effective anyway, and there are other things you can do. Have a vehicle parked on the shoulder before the driveway with flashers on, put up some emergency triangles behind that vehicle. Get a yellow flashing light for the top of your truck that you can put on when removing snow (which is legal for snow removal vehicles). Last of all, use caution when plowing snow. If at night, you can even put flares out before the driveway/work zone. Thanks again for wanting to be safe, and thanks for asking.


Can I tow a fifth-wheel camper with a pickup that has farm plates?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol

Q: I have a one ton pickup that I use on my farm. It has farm plates on it. During the recent cold snap I told my neighbor I was thinking of hooking up my fifth-wheel camper and heading out to Arizona. He told me I would get a ticket for pulling my camper with a pickup that had farm plates on it. Is he correct?

A:  Yes, your neighbor is correct. That would be a violation and you would receive a ticket for that. Being it’s an illegal use of farm plates/registration, you could also be subject to having the vehicle towed and put in impound until you put the proper registration on it.

Q: Can a person have an open bottle of alcohol in a vehicle on a frozen lake or river?

A:  According to Minnesota State Statute 169A.35 Subd. 2. Drinking and consumption; crime described. “It is a crime for a person to drink or consume an alcoholic beverage, distilled spirit or 3.2 percent malt liquor in a motor vehicle when the vehicle is upon a street or highway.”  So as I read it, yes you can.  As we always say, if you plan on drinking, be responsible, and have a plan in place to use a sober ride.



Do I need a driver’s license to operate an ATV?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol

Q:  I got a DWI recently and my driver’s license is revoked and I no longer own a motor vehicle.  I do have an ATV and was wondering if I need a driver’s license to operate it.

A:  In general, a valid driver’s license “is required” to operate an ATV on a road right-of-way (ROW).  A driver’s license is not required to operate an ATV on a designated trail that includes a ROW.  Be advised that a person can still be arrested for a DWI on an ATV.  For more information on where you can drive an ATV, check out

This question also segues into a good reminder to stress that drunk driving remains a major issue in our state. In the last five years, 651 people were killed in drunk driving crashes. Each year, 30,000 people are arrested for DWI.

In Minnesota, repeat DWI offenders, as well as first-time offenders arrested at 0.16 and above alcohol-concentration level, must use ignition interlock in order to regain legal driving privileges, or face at least one year without a driver’s license. Offenders with three or more offenses are required to use interlock for three to six years, or they will never regain driving privileges. Learn more at
What is the law on frosted windows?

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol

Q: The other day at an intersection, I noticed a car with the windows so frosted up the driver had to roll down a window to check for cars coming from my side. What is the law on frosted windows?

A: Minnesota Stature 169.71 subdivision 3 states; “No person shall drive any motor vehicle with the windshield or front-side windows covered with steam or frost to such an extent as to prevent proper vision.”

While the statute does not mention the rear windows I highly recommend all windows be cleared. Too many people remove the snow from the windows but leave it piled high on the engine hood.  If all the snow is not removed, when a vehicle reaches highway speeds some snow can be blown from the vehicle and sucked into the fresh air intake area of your car (normally located near the bottom of the front windshield). This usually results in an almost instant moisture fog up on the inside of your windows and windshield. Try to make sure you get all the snow from your vehicle. It will help your visibility and it could help you avoid a crash.


What’s the scoop on red cars getting stopped more frequently by law enforcement?
by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol
Q: I have been hearing discussions for years now that red cars are most frequently stopped by law enforcement officers, compared to other colored cars. I have also heard red cars are involved in more motor vehicle crashes than that of other colored cars. Is there any truth to either of these longtime stories/myths?
A: I doubt it, but who knows. I don’t know if any studies have been done on it, but I’m sure whatever color of vehicle is getting stopped more than any others is purely coincidental (because it’s not against the law to drive red-colored vehicles)! As far as more crashes, I doubt that too, because I have always been told the opposite – that red cars are safer because they stand out more and are therefore more visible than some of the other vehicle colors. Red cars do stand out, but we are looking for violations, and the color of the vehicle really has nothing to do with that. There are a lot of myths relating to the operation of motor vehicles that seem to hang on for many decades. Many years ago, I witnessed something during a court trial. A man (from out-of-state) accused the local judge of having the law enforcement specially watch for “out-of-state drivers” versus Minnesotans (to charge for violations). The judge stopped court, and ordered an immediate hand survey of all traffic tickets on file for the past two-three years to be sorted for in-state versus out-of-state violators. The pile of tickets to violators from in-state was like Mount Everest when compared to the small pile of tickets to drivers from out-of-state. Court was put back into session and the man was found guilty in a prompt manner, paid his fine and left quietly. Thanks for asking.


Previous advice on turning right on a red arrow incorrect

by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol

Q: I came across your article when searching for information on right turns on red in Minnesota. While this series looks very helpful, I am concerned your advice in this particular column may have been mistaken. You wrote: “Yes, you can make a right turn on a “red arrow” if you make a complete stop. You can then proceed with the right turn if there are no posted signs that state “no right turn on red” and if it’s safe to do so (no oncoming traffic or pedestrians with the right of way – green light). I would also like to add a reminder that when making the right turn from left lane to stay with that left lane during the entire change of course.” I am looking at Minnesota State Statute 169.06, subd. 5 “Vehicular traffic facing a steady red arrow signal, with the intention of making a movement indicated by the arrow, must stop at a clearly marked stop line but, if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then before entering the intersection and must remain standing until a permissive signal indication permitting the movement indicated by the red arrow is displayed, except as follows: when an official sign has been erected permitting a turn on a red arrow signal, the vehicular traffic facing a red arrow signal indication is permitted to enter the intersection to turn right, or to turn left from a one-way street into a one-way street on which traffic moves to the left, after stopping, but must yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and other traffic lawfully proceeding as directed by the signal at that intersection.” Please let me know if I am misinterpreting the law here. Thank you for your service and this column.

A: Thank you for bringing this to my attention; you are correct. What I wrote would apply to a “steady red signal” and not the “red arrow.” Thank you again for letting me know so I could make this correction. A reminder – motorists must treat every corner and intersection as a crosswalk, whether it’s marked or unmarked, and drivers must stop for crossing pedestrians — it’s the law.


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