The right to flash high beams

The Minnesota Court of Appeals today upheld your right to flash high beams at oncoming drivers.

In August 2011, Aaron Neil Sarber flashed his high beams — twice — at an oncoming car, which turned out to be a police cruiser driven by a Mille Lacs County sheriff’s deputy.

The deputy stopped Sarber and cited him for violating a Minnesota statute, which says “[w]hen 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.”

But Sarber appealed, saying there was no proof the “brief flashing projected ‘glaring rays . . . into the eyes of the oncoming driver.'”

A district court judge ruled against Sarber but today the Minnesota Court of Appeals said although an officer may lawfully stop a driver for violating a traffic law, no matter how insignificant the violation, “a stop is not justified if it is based on a mistaken interpretation of the law.”

Up until now, Minnesota courts have not addressed the question of whether flicking high beams violates the law. The Court of Appeals ruled it does not:

Briefly flashing one’s high beams at another driver does not, standing alone, amount to use of a light “intensely and blindingly.” A bright light of extremely short duration does not amount to “glaring rays.” Accordingly, it is a common practice for drivers to flash their high beams to warn other drivers of hazards, or to signal others to adjust their own headlights. Although by no means authoritative, the Minnesota Driver’s Manual (published by the Minnesota Department of Vehicle Safety) recommends that drivers flash their headlights to alert a sleepy or distracted driver approaching in the wrong lane. Our unpublished cases also document instances where state troopers have flashed their high beams to signal approaching drivers to adjust their headlights.

The court indicated, however, that failing to dim high-beam headlights when approaching another car is against the law.

Here’s the full opinion.