Ask a trooper 2017

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,

Covering spot light before getting on the highway

Q: I was wondering do I needed to cover my spot light/light bar on top of my pickup before I hit the highway? Let me know what the rules are regarding a cover or no cover. The research I did before purchasing was only KC style or round lights needed a cover in the state of Minnesota. I have included a photograph.

A: No vehicle may be operated on a public highway unless the auxiliary lamps are within the height requirements. Those outside of the height requirements (including yours) must be covered. They are to be completely covered with an opaque material (not allowing light to pass through).

Is it legal to drive with LED lights under the wheel rim?

Q: I have a legal question for you. I would have installed a light located in the wheel well to cast a glow onto the tire and rim. Mine are a purple color. You cannot see the LED light, just the glow. Is it legal for me to drive on the road with this? Thanks!

 A: That color of light would not be allowed. A vehicle can only have a lamp or device that displays a colored light that’s required or allowed by Minnesota law. Depending on where the lamp or light is located, typically only amber, red and white is allowed for headlights to meet the law.

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

What is the rule for when one vehicle is turning left on a yield and the vehicle opposite has a stop sign?

Q: If at an intersection such as on a four-lane highway where you cross over the two lanes and you are in the median crossover at a yield sign and wanting to turn left and there is a vehicle across from you at a stop sign wanting to go straight, are you supposed to yield to that vehicle wanting to go straight even though he has the stop sign or does he have to stay stopped until I make my left turn to enter the main line of traffic?

 A: The driver in the center median has the right-of-way because he only has a yield sign. The other driver has a stop sign and must stop and wait for the person with the yield sign. Be sure to yield the right-of-way to the traffic already in the main line of travel before entering from the crossover or side road.

What happens if a person with a commercial driver’s license gets a DWI in a private, personal vehicle? If he tests at .08 or more, he will lose his regular driver’s license but not the CDL, correct?

A: The legal limit for driving impaired in Minnesota is 0.08 — but motorists can be arrested for DWI at lower levels. The consequences for driving impaired will vary for each DWI offender. A typical penalty for a first-time offender is the loss of a regular license for a minimum of 30 days or possibly up to a year, and possible jail time. Costs of a DWI can be as high as $20,000 when factoring court costs, legal fees and increased insurance premiums.

For those with a CDL, a first DWI conviction in any vehicle would result in a loss (disqualification) of the CDL for one year. A second DWI conviction would result in the loss of a CDL for life. After 10 years, if they can show rehabilitation, a person could possibly get their CDL back.

Minnesota’s enhanced DWI enforcement and education efforts have been factors in the continued reduction of alcohol-related deaths. Still, drunk driving remains a serious threat, contributing to 95 deaths in 2015. There were more than 25,000 motorists arrested for DWI in 2015, and one in seven Minnesota drivers has a DWI on record.

The fight against impaired driving is everyone’s responsibility. If a person plans on consuming alcohol, plan ahead for a sober ride. If you see an impaired person about to get into a vehicle, speak up and find that person a safe ride home.

Why do officers assume someone was speeding when a driver hits ice and loses control?

Q: Why do officers assume someone was speeding when a driver hits ice and loses control? That can happen to the most experienced drivers. Using 169.14.1 to give a person a ticket because he hit some ice and went off the side of the highway seems like that officer has very little compassion.

A: Our main mission is to promote traffic safety through education and enforcement. One of the top contributing factors to why people are losing their lives and being injured on our roadways is speeding or traveling too fast for conditions. Law enforcement sees this far too often. In most cases, these tragic crashes are preventable.

 Many of the fatal and serious injury crashes that I have investigated are the one-vehicle rollovers -or a two-vehicle crash where one of the vehicles was traveling too fast for conditions, lost control and struck another vehicle.

 We all have an obligation to drive with due care and adjust our driving skills to the weather, road and traffic conditions. This is especially true in winter when weather and road conditions can frequently change.

 Losing control of a vehicle is evidence that the driver committed a violation of a traffic or equipment law. Failure to drive with due care is the most common violation when a vehicle loses control and goes off the roadway.

 The number one thing we can all do is slow down and increase our following distances, especially when roads are slippery and the visibility becomes poor.

 In my experience and when talking with my co-workers, the reasons found for a vehicle losing control on slippery road surfaces are typically:

• Traveling too fast for conditions.

• Using cruise control on poor road conditions.

• Following too close.

• Distracted driving

• Unsafe tires

• Driving while impaired

• Fatigued driving

 Each year, 20-30 State Patrol squad cars are struck while at the scene of a crash or traffic stop because of one or more of these factors. Other factors include drivers that fail to move over for emergency vehicles.

 We take traffic enforcement very seriously. Our goal is to reduce crashes and keep everyone safe on our roadways.

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

How do you get emergency information on a smart phone?

Q: With all these smart phones out there, I’ve heard about being able to get emergency information from them if you find someone in some type of medical emergency where they might be unable to speak or may be unresponsive altogether. I know you troopers are the first ones to respond to a lot of these types of things, could you write about that? Love the articles and thank you for providing all of your services.

A: Thank you and you are welcome! You are correct about some smart phones having these options. Depending on the phone, a person can find medical health information by hitting “Emergency” on the password log screen. This provides first-responders or anyone else with emergency access to the user’s Medical ID. A user can configure their Medical ID with a custom picture and name, date of birth, list of medical conditions, notes, allergies, reactions and medications. Users also can display an emergency contact with name, telephone number and relationship.

If you have a phone that allows it (I will use the iOS 8 for iPhone, for example), users can configure it by launching Health, tapping the Medical ID menu in the bottom right, and then choosing “Create Medical ID.” After the Medical ID has been created, users can go back and make changes at any time through the Health app. (See photo attached.)

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

Is there a requirement to remove the snow/ice from a semi-trailer prior to traveling?

Q: Recently I have noticed quite a few semi-trucks on the freeway with snow and ice blowing off the top of the trailers, sometimes in sheets. I can only imagine what would happen if a sheet came off and struck an unsuspecting vehicle while traveling on the roadway. Is there a requirement to remove the snow/ice from a semi-trailer prior to traveling?

A: This type of incident would fall under the “Unsecured load” statute. The law says no vehicle shall be moved on a roadway, unless the load is securely covered to prevent any leaking, blowing, shifting or dropping.

 Ice or any type of debris that comes off a vehicle could be considered an unsecured load. Drivers should be concerned about civil liability if they fail to take reasonable steps to remove snow and ice that result in property damage or injuries from a crash.

 When traveling behind a vehicle with an unsecure load or ice/snow falling from it, give yourself plenty of room behind the vehicle to avoid any obstacles that may fall off and strike your vehicle. If possible, go around or pass the vehicle when it is safe to do so.

 If you are involved in this type of incident where your vehicle is damaged and/or crashes as a result from falling debris, try to get a license-plate number and report it to law enforcement and your insurance company.

 Please take the time to remove all snow, ice and items that may come off your vehicle so it does not become a hazardous situation on the roadway.

Also, clear all frost, snow and ice from the windows so the driver is able to see from all angles.

How should I report people who snow blow their snow into the street?

Q: What should I do about my neighbor who snow blows the snow from his driveway into the street? I do not know who to report this to. This morning I nearly had an accident sliding down our street.

A: There is a law that covers this issue. The state statute says that it is unlawful to obstruct any highway or deposit snow or ice on the road. This prohibits the plowing, blowing, shoveling or otherwise placing of snow on to public roads. This includes the ditch and right-of-way area along the roads. There may be local ordinances against it as well.

Violations are considered misdemeanors, but civil liability also applies if the placement of snow creates a hazard, such as a slippery area, frozen rut or bump that contributes to a motor vehicle or pedestrian crash. The civil liability can extend to both the property owner and the person who placed the snow. Report this type of violation to your local police or sheriff’s departments.

Is a U Turn legal as long as it is not specifically prohibited or is obviously dangerous?

A: You are correct; however, it’s important to make good choices when making U-turns. Minnesota’s law prevents U-turns upon any curve, or where vehicles cannot be seen by the driver of another approaching vehicle from either direction within 1,000 feet. Obviously, it is also illegal to perform a U-turn if it interferes with traffic approaching in the other direction.

When there is a roadway with two or more lanes in the same direction, a driver may turn the vehicle into the farthest lane and temporarily use the shoulder to make a U-turn.

In my years patrolling, I witnessed vehicles on the freeway using the crossovers to go to the opposite lanes that were clearly marked that prohibit it. If you find yourself needing to go in the opposite direction on the freeway, please resist the urge to use the crossovers and wait for the next exit ramp where it can safely be performed.

I have investigated illegal U-turns that caused fatal and seriously injuries. Please use good judgement and make sure the U-turn can be done safely or simply don’t attempt it.

Can you talk about making a left turn at an intersection when you have a green light?

Q: Can you talk about making a left turn at an intersection when you have a green light? Can I enter into the intersection while waiting for a break in traffic?

A: According to the Minnesota driver’s manual, the following are guidelines to follow when making a left turn:

• While waiting to turn, keep your wheels straight and your foot on the brake. If your vehicle is struck from the rear, you will be less likely to be pushed into oncoming traffic.

• Continue signaling until you begin your turn.

• Do not make sudden turns from the wrong lane of traffic.

• Watch for traffic or obstacles in the road you plan to enter.

• Always finish your turn in the correct lane.

• If the car ahead of you is signaling for a left turn, slow down and prepare to stop.

• When waiting to make a left turn at a green traffic light with oncoming traffic, position your vehicle into the intersection. The only opportunity to make a left turn may occur when the green light changes to yellow.

• If you are behind a vehicle making a left turn, do not enter the intersection in case the traffic light turns red as you might not be able to clear the intersection. This type of maneuver is against the law per Minnesota statue 169.15 IMPEDING TRAFFIC; INTERSECTION GRIDLOCK.

The intersection gridlock law applies specifically to entering an intersection (at a traffic-control light) that you can’t cross because traffic is backed up through the intersection due to another red light, train or other reason. Entering the intersection in this case is against the law. It happens in many cities and creates a lot of problems with the flow of traffic when one direction of traffic cannot continue on a green light because vehicles on the cross road are stopped and blocking the other lanes of traffic.

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

How many ‘road rage’ incidents are reported to the State Patrol on a yearly basis?

Q: I read about a recent study by the AAA Foundation for traffic safety, which found nearly 80 percent of drivers expressed significant anger, aggression or road rage behind the wheel at least once in the previous year. How many “road rage” incidents are reported to the State Patrol on a yearly basis?

A: Troopers respond to a number of calls on a daily basis based on driving conduct and many other issues and actions occurring on our highways. While we do not specifically track “road rage” incidents, I can provide statistics on the number of incidents related to driving conduct and other issues.

Driving Complaints:                         57,465 (2015)

                                                              33,865 (2016 to-date)

Gun Pointing Incidents:                  119 (2015)

                                                              76 (2016 to-date)

 Signs of an aggressive driver:

• Ignoring traffic signals

• Speeding and tailgating

• Weaving in and out of traffic

• Making improper lane changes frequently and abruptly

• Passing on the shoulder

• Making hand and facial gestures

• Screaming, honking and flashing lights.

 If confronted by an aggressive driver, you should:

• Get out of their way.

• Stay calm — reaching your destination safely is your goal.

• Do not challenge them.

• Avoid eye contact.

• Ignore gestures and don’t return them.

• Report aggressive driving (vehicle description, license number, location).

• Always buckle up to maintain proper seating position in case of abrupt driving maneuvers.

 Report Aggressive Drivers:

•Find a safe place to call 911

•Be prepared to provide location, vehicle description and license plate.

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

Do I need to have a mirror on the outside passenger side of the door on my pickup truck? 

Q: Do I need to have a mirror on the outside passenger side of the door on my pickup truck? It has one on the driver’s side and a rear view on the windshield.

A: Being that your pickup has one on the windshield and one on the driver’s side, you are legal in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Driver’s Manual, all passenger vehicles must be equipped with rear-view mirrors. Vehicles such as rental moving trucks, which are not designed to allow a view through the rear window, must be equipped with an additional side mirror. Pickup trucks, which are often used for hauling purposes, must also be equipped with an additional side mirror. The side mirror will provide the driver with a clear view when transported materials obstruct sight through the rear-view mirror.

Vehicles equipped without or limited mirrors can result in a crash as the driver is unable to see behind them from different angles. Driver and passenger-side mirrors help drivers see other vehicles when changing lanes, assist the driver in determining how close other vehicles are, and in the event an emergency vehicle approaches, a driver is able to slow down and safely pullover and yield the right-of-way.

In my experience throughout the years, I have encountered many unsafe situations while responding to emergencies with my lights and siren on where vehicles in front of me had no idea I was behind them. When the driver finally realized there was a patrol car behind them, they would become startled and apply the brakes very hard and/or swerve into the other lanes or shoulder very quickly, creating a very dangerous situation.

I recommend drivers have two outside mirrors, along with a rear-view mirror attached to their windshield at all times. If a driver is pulling an RV or trailer and the view to the rear is obstructed, I recommend purchasing rear-view mirror extensions so the driver is able to clearly see behind the vehicle.

Please avoid distractions while driving and make it a habit of checking rear-view mirrors often. This will increase a driver’s odds of avoiding a crash.

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

What items do I need in an emergency kit?

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 you have at least a half of a tank of fuel. Slow down and use winter driving skills to avoid crashing or going off the road.


What do solid and dashed white lines and yellow lines mean?

Q: I enjoy reading your column. I have been driving for a number of years but still get confused as to what all the white road markings mean. I know what the white dashes on a road/highway mean – OK to pass. But what do solid white lines mean, particularly if they are on a three-lane highway? Also, what do the intermittent white “bricks” mean? What do narrowly spaced white lines mean verses widely spaced white double lines. Thanks for your help!

A: White lines separate lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction.

• A white line with dashes indicates drivers can change lanes in areas where this type of marking is present.

• A line of shorter and thicker white dashes indicates the lane will end.

• A solid white line indicates lane changes are discouraged. Solid white lines also mark cross-walks, stop lines at intersections, parking stalls and the edges of a roadway.

• Double solid white lines indicate lane changes are against the law.

• A solid white line with a bicycle insignia along the side of the road indicates an area designated for bicycle traffic only. Bicycles must travel in the same direction as adjacent traffic.

Yellow lines separate traffic moving in opposite directions.

• A solid yellow line indicates passing is prohibited. Passing in a no-passing zone is illegal.

• A line composed of yellow dashes indicates passing is allowed.

• A solid yellow line may appear on one side of the roadway, while a line composed of dashes appears on the other side. Drivers must obey the marking that is present in their lane of traffic.

• Two solid yellow lines, one in each lane of traffic, indicate passing is prohibited in both directions. Drivers traveling in both directions are prohibited from crossing the double solid center line in order to pass other vehicles.

Please obey the speed limits and passing zones. If the roadway is covered with snow, slow down and look for the no-passing signs and do your best to determine where the lanes are marked.

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

Janelle Von Pinnon

Janelle Von Pinnon

Publisher/CEO at Newsleaders
Von Pinnon has been publishing the St. Joseph Newsleader since 1989, the Sartell-St. Stephen Newsleader since 1995 and the Sauk Rapids-Rice Newsleader since 2015. She graduated from Minnesota State University-Moorhead with degrees in mass communications (with an emphasis on print journalism) and biology. She lives in southeast St. Cloud with her husband and two children.
Janelle Von Pinnon

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