The Minnesota Court of Appeals today reaffirmed one of the most ignored vehicle laws in the state: When it’s raining, you have to turn on your headlights and tail lamps.
The court made its declaration in the case of Catherine McCabe, who was stopped by Minneapolis police near Penn Avenue in December 2015 because it was raining and she didn’t have her lights on.
She also had a gun for which she did not have a carry permit, and she was charged on that offense.
At her trial, a judge threw out the traffic stop after McCabe’s attorney argued that the police did not reasonably suspect that she was committing a traffic violation when they stopped her.
While Minnesota Law mandates that a car display lighted headlamps and tail lamps at any time it is raining, the statute also mandates that lighted headlamps and tail lamps are required at any time visibility is impaired or there is “not sufficient light to render clearly discernible persons and vehicles on the highway at a distance of 500 feet ahead.”
Reading the statute as a whole, the intent of the law is to require headlight and taillight illumination when visibility is obscured by a distance of 500 feet ahead. The statute does not define “raining” but the squad video shows that it is very lightly sprinkling but not nearly enough to hinder visibility. . . . Consequently, the Officers did not have an
objective reason to stop the vehicle.
But the Court of Appeals panel said the law is pretty clear:
Section 169.48 requires drivers to display lighted headlamps and lighted tail lamps in three circumstances:
(1) at any time from sunset to sunrise;
(2) at any time when it is raining, snowing, sleeting, or
(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.
The appeals court said the district court judge combined the #2 and #3 provisions and then concluded that “even when it is raining, a driver need not display lighted headlamps and lighted tail lamps if persons and vehicles are clearly discernible at a distance of 500 feet ahead.”
Wrong, the panel said in today’s ruling.
The unambiguous language of section 169.48 indicates that the provisions are to be considered independently: “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.”
The phrase “any other time” indicates that the impaired-visibility circumstance need not exist in every instance in order for the mandate that drivers display lighted headlamps and lighted tail lamps to be triggered.
Under the plain statutory language, rain is sufficient to trigger the statutory requirement that a driver display lighted headlamps and lighted tail lamps, regardless of the visibility of persons and vehicles on the
The district court’s finding that it was not raining “nearly enough
to hinder visibility” therefore is irrelevant.
The court said that dashboard video from the police car showed it was raining hard enough to require windshield wipers, thus making the traffic stop legal.
The Court of Appeals sent the case back to the lower court.