"ASK A TROOPER” by Sgt. Jesse Grabow of the Minnesota State Patrol
Question: I’m wondering: Is the use of blinkers a state law or only an optional courtesy suggestion? It seems to me that the use of cell phones has increased, the use of blinkers has decreased. Also, if it is a law – in changing lanes or making a turn, at what point should the blinker be put on (how far ahead of the turn?) Thank you!
Answer: The use of a turn signal is a state law. I would agree with you that as the rate of cell phone use while driving along with many other distractions have increased, the use of turn signals has decreased. I’ve been in law enforcement a little more than 16 years (15 of them with the Minnesota State Patrol) and I’ve seen the use of cell phones become more popular and evolve with their use to include texting and internet usage.
We have a law in Minnesota that makes it illegal for drivers to read/compose/send text messages and emails, or access the Internet using a wireless device while the vehicle is in motion or a part of traffic -including stopped in traffic or at a traffic light. Still, each year in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one out of every four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries. The Office of Traffic Safety estimates these numbers are vastly underreported due to law enforcement’s challenge in determining distraction as a crash factor; therefore, it can be difficult for law enforcement to determine if a person is doing this while they are driving. However, here is where I’ve found myself less tolerant. Drivers who do not signal their lanes changes or turns, or who continually cross over the centerline, are in violation. This becomes a true issue of safety and I find myself issuing more citations for these types of offenses.
As for when should a person signal their intent to turn or change lanes, each situation is slightly different. I would advise good common sense to look at the total picture of, location, traffic volume, speeds and highway conditions. Minnesota law states: “A signal of intention to turn right or left shall be given continuously during not less than the last 100 feet traveled by the vehicle before turning.”
This is what is listed and taught in the Minnesota Driver’s Manual: “When you wish to change lanes or make a turn, signal with an approved signal device to inform other motorists of your intention. Signals are to be activated at least 100 feet before you make the turn. Continue signaling until you have completed the turn or lane change. It is often necessary to change lanes in order to make a turn, merge with other traffic, or to perform other driving activities. Lane changing can be dangerous and must be done with caution. Make sure you have safe clearance to the side, behind, and ahead of your vehicle, before moving into another lane. Turn your head in the direction of the lane you are moving into and check for vehicles. If you rely only on mirrors, you may not see vehicles in certain positions, known as blind spots.”
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, firstname.lastname@example.org).