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Ask a Trooper: Headlights can shine you to safety

Question: I am a 34-year veteran police officer nearing the end of my career. The recent snowfalls made me angry, seeing all the drivers not using their headlights. I was shocked because during these snowfalls, I bet at least 25 percent of drivers or more did not have any lights on at all. Many drivers just had daytime running lights on, which, of course, are not considered legal headlights for inclement weather, because as everyone should know by now, when lights are required, then all vehicle lights are required, not just headlights. Headlights are used so you can be seen, not just so you can see -- many drivers don’t seem to understand that fact.

During the snowstorms, I also saw that many drivers only had their parking lights while driving as well. Aren’t people aware of the law? I think all of us officers should start really going after these drivers with tickets and maybe we will get somewhere. I have talked with a lot of officers, and they are fed up, too. Maybe you could keep on trying to educate the public about this, and do another article saying that having your headlights on can save lives. Maybe at least some drivers will wise up. Many officers have written serious injury or even fatal crashes that could have been avoided if only someone had on their headlights. In fact, we (officers) see it all the time. When I am at a stop sign, and I look left or right, I always see the vehicle that has its headlights on first, even if there are other closer vehicles without headlights on. Even after all these years of seeing this, I can hardly believe that so many drivers just don’t “get it” and are driving in this unsafe manner.

Please do what you can to inform drivers that they need to actually turn the headlights on manually in many cases, and that some vehicles with (supposed) “automatic” headlights don’t actually turn on all other lights that are required when headlights are to be used. Sometimes we (officers) are busy at a scene and we don’t have time to go chasing after the non-headlight drivers, but some of them pay for it when they are in a crash. You would think that drivers would want to do all they can do to be safe and keep their passengers — who are often family members — safe. Thanks for whatever you can do.

Answer: You about said it all and very well at that. I will add that traffic safety officials everywhere are advocating just driving with your headlights on all the time, so you don’t have to worry about what all of the specific requirements of the law. After the recent lengthy snowstorms, I heard this same exact complaint from numerous sources and regions.

Just to cover all the bases: In part, the law, M.S.S. 169.48, says: “Every vehicle upon a highway within this state: at any time from sunset to sunrise; at any time when it is raining, snowing, sleeting, or hailing; and 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...”

A good rule of thumb:  If your wipers need to be on, then your headlights should be on, too.

SGT. CURT S. MOWERS is with the Minnesota State Patrol.