COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT AUTOMOBILE & DRIVING LAWS IN MINNESOTA
Must I have a license to operate any vehicles other than a car (such as a moped, boat, motorcycle, or snowmobile)?
Yes. Minnesota law prohibits a person from driving “any motor vehicle upon any street or highway” unless the person has a valid permit or license for the class of vehicle being driven. The law defines “motor vehicle” to include all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), motorcycles, snow- mobiles, and other “self-propelled” land vehicles. Any resident born since 1976 who operates a snowmobile in Minnesota must possess either a valid snowmobile safety certificate or a driver’s license that has a valid snowmobile qualification indicator permit.
The law also requires the driver of any three-wheeled vehicle (such as an autocycle or motorcycle with a sidecar), motorcycle, motor scooter, or motorbike on a street or highway to have a valid driver’s license with a three-wheeled or two-wheeled vehicle (i.e., motorcycle) endorsement. The law also allows a “motorized bicycle” (i.e., moped) to be operated by anyone with either a driver’s license or a moped permit, which is available to anyone age 15 years or older.
With regard to boats, the law requires persons between the ages of 12 and 18 to hold a valid watercraft operator’s permit when operating any motorboat with a 26 horsepower or larger motor unless there is a person age 21 or older in the motorboat within immediate reach of the controls.
A permit is also required for a person between the ages of 13 and 18 to operate a “jet ski” or “personal watercraft” unless there is a person 21 year of age or older on board the craft.
Am I required to carry my driver’s license with me whenever I am driving?
Yes. Minnesota law requires every driver to have a license in his or her immediate possession at all times when operating a motor vehicle and to display it upon demand by an officer authorized to enforce laws relating to the operation of motor vehicles.
Must I have a license if the vehicle is used on my own property or property of a friend?
Minnesota law does not require a driver’s license in order to drive a motor vehicle on private property. If, however, the person’s driver’s license is suspended, revoked, or canceled, the law forbids operating any motor vehicle anywhere in the state, including on private property.
What if I drive after my license has been suspended?
Minnesota law makes it a misdemeanor to drive after suspension, revocation, or cancellation. Accordingly, the maximum sentence would be 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. In addition, a conviction will often result in a further suspension of the driver’s license.
Driving after cancellation may be a gross misdemeanor (up to one-year in jail and $3,000 fine) if the driver’s license was canceled for being “inimical [i.e. harmful] to the public safety,” which generally means you have had multiple alcohol-involved violations.
Am I required to wear a seat belt or a helmet when I operate motor vehicles?
Minnesota law requires all occupants to wear a properly fastened and adjusted seat and shoulder belt. A child under eight years of age riding as a passenger in a vehicle must be secured in a certified child restraint system, unless the child is 4’9’’ or taller.
The law also requires drivers of “motorized bicycles” and motorcycles to wear protective headgear (a helmet) until the age of 18. All motorcycle operators, regardless of age, must wear protective eye devices.
Properly licensed motorcyclists are not required by law in Minnesota to wear helmets, but because serious head injury is common among fatally injured motorcyclists, helmet use is important. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that helmets are about 29 percent effective in preventing motorcycle deaths and about 67 percent effective in preventing brain injuries. A motorcycle helmet can help prevent serious injury or death in even a low speed accident.
At what age can I own my own car?
In general, a person must be 18 or older to own a car. Under Minnesota law, persons under the age of 18 may own a car if:
- that person is seventeen and has completed a driver’s training course
- the person is seventeen and a high school graduate
- the person is an employed, emancipated minor with a Minnesota driver’s license
- the person became a car owner while a resident of another state or country, and the car is registered in the person’s name in the other state or country.
What is a “title” to a car and do I need the title if I own a car?
A title is the official document produced by the state describing the serial number, make of car, owner, and other pertinent information. Every car is required to have such a title, which must reflect the current owner.
When you buy a car, the seller must sign the title document and give it to you. You must file the document with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and pay the appropriate fees. If this is not done, the prior owner of the car continues to hold title and may be found legally responsible for the vehicle.
The Certificate of Title is “prima facie evidence” of ownership, meaning that the true owner of the car can be legally presumed to be the person listed on the title unless someone is able to prove otherwise in court. It is important to transfer the Certificate of Title immediately upon sale or purchase of a car, for many reasons.
If I obtain a car loan, what rights does the bank have over my car?
If you purchase your car with a loan, the bank will have what is called a security interest in your car. Such an interest makes the car collateral for the loan. If you default on the loan, the bank may repossess and resell the car, and sue for any amount of the unpaid loan it does not collect in the resale. The bank may also require the owner to carry insurance on the car so that if the car is damaged, the bank’s interest in the car will be protected.
Does Minnesota require me to carry car insurance?
Yes. Minnesota law requires the owner of every motor vehicle to carry insurance, and to carry proof that the vehicle is insured. Failure to produce proof of insurance when demanded by an enforcement officer may result in a criminal charge and/or revocation of the driver’s license.
If I am in an accident and do not have insurance, what penalties do I face?
Failure to have car insurance is a misdemeanor. The maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000. Furthermore, if you are involved in an accident and do not have insurance, you might be required to pay any out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the other driver. In addition, a conviction results in a mandatory revocation of driver’s license. You can be charged with driving without insurance even if there is no accident.
Also, if you do not have car insurance, you would not have coverage to pay for a lawyer to defend you in a civil lawsuit for injuries, or to help pay any court judgment for money damages.
What other necessary requirements and expenses are involved in owning a car?
Other expenses include the cost of keeping your car in proper operating condition, paying for vehicle registration, and paying yearly personal property taxes and licensing fees.
What must I do if I am involved in a car accident?
Minnesota law requires the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in death, personal injury, or property damage to stop at or as close as possible to the accident scene and stay at the accident scene until all the required information has been given. Any victims, drivers, occupants of vehicles, or police officers at the scene investigating the accident must be given the driver’s name, address, and date of birth; the vehicle’s registration number; the name and address of the insurer of the vehicle; and the name of the insurance agent. The driver must also render reasonable assistance to any person injured in the accident.
If the driver strikes an unattended vehicle or other private property, the driver must locate the owner, notify the police or leave a note on the car with identifying information.
If the accident results in personal injury or death, the driver must also notify the police. If the accident results in personal injury or death to any person or total property damage of $1,000 or more, the driver must also complete an accident report form and send it to the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety.
Failure to comply with any of these requirements can result in criminal charges ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony, depending on the severity of the accident and the specific violation. The maximum possible sentence can range from 90 days in jail and a fine of $1,000 to ten years in prison and a fine of $20,000. In addition, such a conviction can result in the loss of your driver’s license.
What is the “Not-a-Drop” Law?
It is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1000 fine for a person under the age of 21 years to drive, operate, or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while consuming alcoholic beverages, or after consuming alcoholic beverages while there is physical evidence of consumption present in the driver’s body. An offender will also suffer a 30-day license suspension for a first offense and a 180-day suspension for a repeat offense.
What is “driving under the influence”?
It is a crime to drive, operate, or be in physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances, i.e. drugs. This is often referred to as DWI, “driving while impaired.” Conversationally this is also called “DWI—driving while intoxicated” or “DUI—driving under the influence.”
It is also a crime to drive if your blood alcohol concentration is at or over the per se alcohol concentration limit. The “per se” limit refers to the alcohol concentration in your bloodstream, even if that alcohol level has not overtly impaired your driving ability. In Minnesota, the blood alcohol limit is 0.08% within two hours of driving.
Everyone reacts to alcohol differently, and the amount of alcohol that must be consumed to put you “under the influence” varies from person to person depending upon body size, metabolism rates, and other factors. Therefore, it is important to keep track of how much you have had to drink and to “know your limit” under the law, rather than to simply drive if you “feel okay to drive.”
A person charged with criminal offenses in a DWI case will typically be charged with both “driving-while-impaired” and the per se crime of driving at “0.08 or more alcohol concentration.”
Any individual 16 years of age or older charged with driving while impaired will appear in adult court rather than juvenile court.
What penalties exist for alcohol-related driving offenses?
Minnesota categorizes driving-while-impaired (DWI) crimes as “first- degree,” “second-degree,” “third-degree,” and “fourth degree,” with first-degree being the most serious. The degree of the offense depends on the number of “aggravating factors.”
If you are charged with a DWI crime with certain “aggravating factors,” the severity of the criminal charge will be worse and the penalties more severe. These aggravating factors include prior impaired driving incidents within ten years, having an alcohol concentration of 0.20% within two hours of driving, and having a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle if the child is more than 36 months younger than the offender.
A fourth-degree DWI crime involves no aggravating factors, and is a misdemeanor (90 days in jail and $1,000 fine maximum). A third- degree DWI crime involves one aggravating factor, and a second-degree DWI crime involves two or more aggravating factors. Both are classified as gross misdemeanors (up to one year in jail and $3,000 fine maximum). A first-degree DWI crime is when there are four or more DWI convictions during a ten-year period or when there has ever been a previous felony conviction. First-degree DWI is a felony (and involves mandatory imprisonment of not less than three years and up to seven years, and a fine of up to $14,000).
If an arresting officer has reason to believe that the offense is either “first” or “second” degree, the driver will be taken into custody and detained until the first court appearance.
If the DWI crime results in “substantial bodily harm,” “great bodily harm,” or death to a person or unborn child, the crime is deemed to be a felony with a maximum sentence varying from three to ten years in prison and fines up to $20,000.
There are also mandatory minimum sentences if convicted for a DWI crime within ten years of a prior DWI crime or alcohol-related license revocation. In addition to criminal penalties, there are administrative sanctions where the offender’s driver’s license can be revoked for varying periods of time.
Since 2011, eligible offenders have the option of participating in the Minnesota Ignition Interlock Device Program. The ignition interlock device program gives the eligible alcohol offender the option of having an ignition interlock device installed on his or her vehicle, helping to ensure legal driving. The device prevents a vehicle from starting if it detects a certain alcohol level concentration after the driver blows into a tube. The device is installed near the steering wheel and connected to the engine.
How can I get my license back?
Current license revocation and reinstatement rules are as follows
A first alcohol offense with an alcohol concentration under 0.16 results in a 90-day loss of driving privileges. If you are under the age of 21, the number of days increases to 180. Options available to such offenders are:
- an ignition interlock restricted license with full Class D driving privileges;
- after a 15-day waiting period of no driving, a limited license will be issued allowing a person to drive to/from work, school, treatment, abstinence-based support group meetings, court appearances, and probation meetings for up to 60 hours and 6 days per week; or
- no driving for the 90 day period.
- A first alcohol offense with an alcohol concentration 0.16 or greater, or refusal to test, results in a one-year loss of driving privileges. Options available to such offenders are:
- an ignition interlock restricted license with full Class D privileges; or
- no driving for the one year period.
A second alcohol offense in 10 years or a third offense on record with an alcohol concentration level under 0.16 results in a one-year loss of driving privileges. Options available to such offenders are:
- an ignition interlock restricted license with full Class D privileges; or
- no driving for the one-year period.
A second alcohol offense in 10 years or third offense on record with an alcohol concentration level 0.16 or greater, or refusal to test, results in a two-year loss of driving privileges. Options available for such offenders are:
- an ignition interlock restricted license with full Class D privileges; or
- no driving for the two-year period.
A third offense within 10 years or fourth on record results in a three- year minimum loss of driving privileges. A fourth offense within 10 year results in a four-year minimum loss of driving privileges. A fifth or subsequent offense results in a six-year minimum loss of driving privileges. All driving privileges of such repeat offenders are considered canceled and denied as “inimical [i.e. harmful] to public safety.” Reinstatement requirements are:
- mandatory ignition interlock installed for the entire revocation period
- limited license for the first year of ignition interlock or until treatment is completed whichever is longer
- restricted license issued after one year of limited license, and once treatment is completed, full Class D driving privileges may be allowed, but with restriction to driving a vehicle with an ignition interlock device installed.
Any failed tests require the person to start the process over with a limited license, complete another chemical health assessment, and comply with the requirements of the assessment.
Along with the revocation of driving privileges, certain offenders are subject to other civil sanctions including the impoundment of their license plates and the requirement to obtain special registration or “whiskey plates,” which by their numbering system identify the owner to law-enforcement personnel as one who has a history of impaired driving, or even the seizure and forfeiture of their vehicle.
What’s the difference between Fourth, Third, Second and First Degree DWI charges?
Classification of DWIs is related to the number of “aggravating factors.” Aggravating factors include: prior impaired driving incidents within ten years, having an alcohol concentration of 0.20% within two hours of driving, and having a child under the age of 16 in the vehicle if the child is more than three years younger than the driver.”
If the DWI incident results in “substantial bodily harm,” “great bodily harm,” or death to a person or unborn child, the crime is deemed to be a felony, with punishment of three to ten years in prison and fines up to $20,000.
Includes no aggravating factors. This is a misdemeanor, with sentencing up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Includes one aggravating factor. This is a gross misdemeanor, with sentencing up to one year in jail and $3,000 maximum fine.
Includes two or more aggravating factors. This is a gross misdemeanor, with sentencing up to one year in jail and $3,000 maximum fine. Driver will be taken into custody.
Includes four or more aggravating factors. This is a felony that requires mandatory imprisonment of not less than three years and up to seven years, and a fine of up to $14,000. Driver will be taken into custody.
Do I need a lawyer if I am detained by the police?
A lawyer’s advice can help protect you as you face police requests to provide breath, urine, or blood samples, perform field exercises, and answer questions. Lawyers are generally available to answer calls– even in the middle of the night–from DWI suspects calling from police stations. While police must read an “implied consent advisory,” they should not give you legal advice since it would be a conflict of interest to do so.
If arrested by the police for DWI, must I submit to alcohol testing?
You may decline to submit to testing, but if you refuse to be tested, your license may be administratively revoked, and you may be subjected to various criminal and administrative penalties. However, if you submit to chemical testing and the analysis reports that you are over the per se limit for alcohol, your license may also be administratively revoked and you may be subjected to various criminal and administrative penalties.
Consulting with a lawyer before deciding whether to submit to chemical testing by police will help you protect your rights.
Minnesota’s implied consent law provides that by driving on Minnesota public roads, the driver agrees to provide a breath, blood, or urine sample for testing when an officer has probable cause to believe that the driver is impaired because of the consumption of alcohol or the use of other drugs.
In the ordinary case, police officers will not normally take blood or urine tests by force. Where the incident involves personal injury or death, however, and where the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has been driving while impaired by alcohol or controlled substances, a sample can be taken by force and without consent for testing.
Are penalties for driving under the influence of illegal drugs the same as for driving under the influence of alcohol?
Yes, the penalties for driving while under the influence of a controlled substance or a combination of alcohol and a controlled substance are generally the same. Drug-recognition trained police officers are used to identify the use of drugs other than alcohol.
You are not required to perform any field exercises or eye exercises requested by police. If requested to do so, you can refuse unless you are allowed to speak with a lawyer first.
If you possess or sell illegal drugs while driving a vehicle (other than 1.5 ounces of marijuana or less in the car’s trunk), your license will be revoked for 30 days.
Is the driving record of a minor wiped clean at age 18?
DWI criminal convictions remain on your public court record permanently; they are not erased from your record when you turn 18. Also, DWI criminal convictions and alcohol-related driver’s license revocations will remain on your driving record with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety for at least 15 years for a single such event, and permanently if there has been more than one event. This is not affected by turning 18 years of age.
Impaired driving-related convictions and driver’s license revocations accumulate over time and make subsequent impaired driving convictions and license revocations all the more serious in terms of criminal charges, revocation periods, and fines. Drivers convicted of driving while intoxicated also face dramatically increased insurance costs and reduced quality of auto insurance. They may be required to undergo chemical dependency assessment and treatment. They also must pay significant reinstatement fees to regain their driver’s licenses, if they can.
Generally, after three impaired driving convictions or license revocations within 10 years, or four in a lifetime, violators lose their normal driver’s licenses for life. In order to regain legal driving privileges, one must then fulfill very stringent requirements. If there are additional violations, the individual can reach a stage where he or she will never again be able to legally drive in the United States under any circumstances.
Is it legal to hitchhike or pick up hitchhikers in Minnesota?
Minnesota law does not expressly prohibit hitchhiking or giving hitchhikers a ride, but it does prohibit standing in a roadway to solicit a ride. The term “roadway” does not include sidewalks or shoulders.
Is it illegal to text and drive?
Yes. Text messaging, emailing, or accessing the Internet on a wireless device when the vehicle is moving or a part of traffic is against the law in Minnesota; violation of the law is subject to a $50 fine and possibly court fees. A person who commits two or more violations will be required to pay a $225 fine in addition to the fine specified by the court.
Can I talk on my cell phone while I drive?
The holder of a provisional license may not drive a motor vehicle while using a cellular or wireless telephone (including a hands-free device). Violation of the law is a petty misdemeanor which carries a maximum fine of $300. With an unrestricted drivers license, one may use a cell phone, but only if it does not result in distracted driving.
Is it illegal to wear headphones and drive?
Yes, Minnesota law prohibits driving while wearing headphones or earphones that are used in both ears simultaneously; violation is a petty misdemeanor which carries a maximum fine of $300.
Is it illegal to hang things like fuzzy dice or air fresheners from the car’s rear-view mirror?
Yes, Minnesota law prohibits a person from driving any vehicle with any objects suspended between the driver and the windshield other than: sun visors, rear view mirrors, driver feedback and safety-monitoring equipment when mounted immediately behind, slightly above, or slightly below the rear-view mirror, global positioning systems (GPS) or navigation systems when mounted or located near the bottommost portion of the windshield and electronic toll collection devices. A violation is a petty misdemeanor offense which carries a maximum fine of $300.
What is a provisional driver’s license?
Minnesota and many other states have adopted a Graduated Driver Licensing Program in order to help overcome issues of young drivers as they get their first licenses. In Minnesota, a young person must first receive an instruction permit, then a provisional license, and finally an unrestricted license. After at least twelve months with a provisional license, which is valid for up to two years, without any tickets or accidents, or once the young driver is 18 years old, he or she is eligible for an unrestricted license, which will expire at 21.
What restrictions are in place for provisional license holders?
For the first six months that you have a provisional license you may not drive a motor vehicle carrying more than one passenger under the age of 20 who is not a member of your immediate family. For the second six months you may not drive a motor vehicle that is carrying more than three passengers who are under the age of 20 and not a member of your immediate family. Also, for the first six months of having a provisional license, you may not drive between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. unless you are driving between home and your place of employment; driving between home and a school event for which school has not provided transportation; driving for employment purposes; or driving with a licensed driver at least 25 years of age.
What is the “Move Over” law?
When approaching and before passing an authorized emergency vehicle with its emergency lights activated that is parked or otherwise stopped on or next to a street or highway having two lanes in the same direction, the driver of a vehicle shall safely move the vehicle to the lane farthest away from the emergency vehicle if it is possible to do so. A violation is a petty misdemeanor level offense with a maximum fine of $300.
What happens to my license if I get a lot of tickets or drive really fast?
Convictions for four moving violations within a 12-month period or five violations within a 24-month period will result in a 30-day license suspension. A conviction for speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour will result in a 6-month license revocation.
Have more questions about automobile and driving laws in Minnesota?
DWI law is complex and continually evolving, and if you are facing a DWI charge, it is important to discuss your individual circumstances with a criminal defense attorney. Set up an appointment with an attorney by clicking here to use our Online Self-Referral option, or contact a referral counselor at 612-752-6699. For additional information on other drivers license issues, visit the Hennepin County Service Center website: Driver’s Licenses