Ask a trooper: December 31, 2014


Question: Winter is here and I’m noticing that some people are pushing the snow from their driveways onto the highways. The piles and ice build-up are unsafe, is this illegal?
Answer: According to Minnesota State Statute 160.2715, “it shall be unlawful to obstruct any highway or deposit snow or ice thereon.” This prohibits the plowing, blowing, shoveling or otherwise placing of snow onto public roads. This includes the ditch and right of way area along the roads. 
Violations are considered misdemeanors, but civil penalties also apply 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.
If a person observes something appearing to be a hazard, I would encourage them to report it as quickly as possible to the proper law enforcement agency or highway department. Here are some winter driving tips:
• Drive at safe speeds according to road conditions, and provide for plenty of travel time.
• Increase the safe stopping distance between vehicles. 
• Use extra precautions when driving around snowplows by keeping at least five car-lengths behind them.
• Do not use cruise control on snow/icy/wet roads.
Question: If there is a serious injury or fatal crash involving a train, who has primary investigative authority? Is it the railroad company or law enforcement? Can law enforcement request body fluid samples (blood, urine, breath) from the train engineer, using the same criteria used when law enforcement is working a vehicular crash?
Answer: It is a two-pronged investigation. Law enforcement would handle the crash report, but the Federal Rail Authority (FRA) has primary jurisdiction over any incident involving a train.  Law enforcement cannot require or take a fluid sample from any member of the train crew.  FRA and the rail road company handle that process.  They also work together on the investigation surrounding the train’s black box or event recorder.  The legal explanation is found in federal law
Law enforcement would deal with the other factor(s) involved (person, vehicle, bicycle, etc.) and gather the evidence needed for that part of the investigation. Here is guidance from “Operation Lifesaver” on staying safe around train crossings:
• Trains and cars don't mix. Never race a train to the crossing — even if you tie, you lose.
• The train you see is closer and faster-moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.
• Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That's 18 football fields!
• Never drive around lowered gates — it's illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 number posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency.
• Do not get trapped on the tracks; proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.
• If your vehicle ever stalls on a track with a train coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
• At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching from either direction.
• When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember, it isn't safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
• ALWAYS EXPECT A TRAIN. Freight trains do not follow set schedules.
A portion of state statutes was used with permission from the Office of the Revisor of Statutes. 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 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205.  (You can follow him on Twitter @MSPPIO_NW or reach him at,