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 Our unpublished cases also document instances where state troopers have flashed their high beams to signal approaching drivers to adjust their headlights.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.

  • Jim Shapiro

    What about the god-given right to machine gun people who don’t use their turn indicators?

  • JSK

    ^I like that one. Does the state issue a weapon along with driver’s license yet?

  • Albatross

    As long as you do not flash your high beams in their eyes that’s perfectly legal.

    BTW am I the only one who was disappointed that the term ‘flash high beams’ wasn’t intended in the sense of a woman wearing a thin t-shirt with no bra? I want to know where the Supreme Court stands on this important issue.

  • Mark Gisleson

    I’ll give the troopers this one if they would just simply start arresting #$%@s who drive with their fog lights on all the time.

    In town, it’s one thing, but when you encounter one of these fog light lovers on a dark country road, it’s impossible not to be blinded. And no, they never turn the fog lights off no matter how many times you flash your headlights.

  • Mira

    Ah yes, Mille Lacs County. They have to pay for that big, shiny, new government center they built (in the middle of a recession) in Milaca somehow, so they will ticket you if you so much as look at a cop “wrong”. Color me unsurprised that they tried to get this guy on a trumped up charge.

  • Ed

    I thought Serber was convicted of DUI. So what I think happened here is that he found a really good team of lawyers and bought himself some justice.

    I have been issued a moving violation for driving 56mph in a 55mph zone. I thought that was asinine, but at least I wasn’t intoxicated so I just paid the fine.

    So does the state or the county have to pay all the legal fees as well?

  • Bob Collins

    You’re guaranteed certain rights in the constitution. One of them is to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure. That’s why we define probable cause.

    One does not buy those rights. They belong to us already. Their value — as I’ve indicated here many times — comes from our willingness to extend them to the most despicable people.

    So your freedoms actually come from cases involving racists, muckrackers, Nazi sympathizers and murderers.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – your citing of our rights under the Constitution and the fact that they continue to exist largely because we are willing to extend them to the least of our brethren is typically sagacious.

    And maintaining that sagacious reasoning, of course you would never argue except as the devil’s advocate that Ed is incorrect in his implication that many if not most legal outcomes – with the notable exceptions – are largely dependent on the defendant’s ability to purchase the best legal representation possible. 🙂

  • Bob Collins

    // with the notable exceptions – are largely dependent on the defendant’s ability to purchase the best legal representation possible. 🙂

    That’s always the case. The best legal representation POSSIBLE.

    Brown was argued by the NAACP legal defense fund. Miranda v. Arizona was originally brought by the ACLU, which recruited John Flynn.

    I get your innuendo, but there are actually are high-priced lawyers out there who care about constitutional guarantees and recognizing the importance of providing a defense of them.

    Miranda had no means to hire those lawyers; neither did Brown. Neither, I suspect, did Jay Near.

    But there they are: Three poor people who you have to thank for three rights you have.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Bob – Well played, sir.

    Where would we be without the aclu and similar legal and civil rights groups.

    But their existence and victories are in spite of – not because of – our pay to play legal system.

  • Stacy

    So I wonder, was the cruiser driving with high beams on or not? If they were.. I guess I can see a possible misunderstanding, and maybe a warning should have been given instead of a ticket. But if the Deputy wanted to be a jerk and actually give a ticket, then they lost a lot of money with the courts processing this. Sad Very Sad. But then the person stopped could have been a jerk also. It is terribly hard to drive at night with someones bright lights, or even those new headlights (that are actually suppose to be illegal in MN) that are so bright.

  • Rick Mons

    Mark Gisleson complains about being blinded by the fog lights of other drivers. Unless he’s driving a car that’s only 2 feet (or lower) off the ground, it’s not likely Mark is blinded by fog lights.

    Fog lights are purposely designed to cast their light down so the fog doesn’t reflect the light back. Factory installed and aftermarket fog lamps typically are designed so that the light blacks out above the height where the beams of conventional headlights begin to illuminate the roadway.

    Moreover, factory installed fog lights won’t typically operate when the high beam lights are activated since they’re incompatible. High beams (or bright lights) are purposely designed to cast a light higher and further down the roadway than ordinary headlights. And that’s what is blinding.

  • Jon

    Rick, beat me to it, but fog lights will not generally blind some one unless like so many headlights they are aimed terribly wrong.

    Driving lights are a different story, also legal in minnesota though they are supposed to be turned off when on comming traffic is in range of them.

    I have fog lights, high beams, low beams, and driving lights on my car. Technically MN allows me one more pair of lights (last I looked) for spot beams, which are only for use on completely vacant roads.

    That being said I turn my foglights on when I want to be seen, abd my driving lights really on get used on troops to the middle of no where… Other wiser they are covered.

    My foglights are worth less in fog because they only turn on with the low beams, so the fog is all ready reflecting just as much light back as the fog lights are supposed to produce, and to top it off, they aren’t even polarized… I miss my old car where this was not the case and my foglights would cut through fog, and snow like it wasn’t even there.

  • Kandy Holman

    I do not know what roads you guys drive on. However I drive my F-350 up 169 to the lake most every weekend and I can tell you that there are alot of NON factory installed fog lights out there. I am often blinded by people that have both their high beams and fog lights on. These are often misaligned. Even when you flash them they do not care. This is a MAJOR peeve. If the police need more revenue they should be on the look out for this offense and ticket it. There are plenty of offenders out there.