Headlights need to be on if it's raining or snowing – even lightly – court says

Just turn your headlights on. Even if it's not raining or snowing hard.

There's no gray area within state law – if you're driving on a highway and it's raining, snowing, sleeting or hailing, your headlights absolutely have to be on.

That's the conclusion from judges with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which Monday ruled in a case that argued the law allowed for some wiggle room.

A woman, Catherine McCabe, had gotten pulled over in December of 2015 by Minneapolis police while driving in light rain, in part for not having her lights on, the ruling says. Cops found a handgun in her car, which she did not have a permit to carry, and she was charged.

But McCabe wanted evidence from the stop suppressed, saying police had no reasonable suspicion she was violating any traffic laws when they pulled her over. One of the officers said he stopped her because he thought her headlights and taillights weren't lit.

The district court ruled in McCabe's favor, and found the officers didn't have reasonable suspicion of illegal activity to pull McCabe's car over.

The ruling Monday

The Court of Appeals says that was the wrong determination.

Here's the Minnesota statute that lays out when your headlights have to be on:

The district court, Monday's ruling explains, looked at the statute as almost an "either or" law – that if things were still clearly visible 500 feet ahead, then you don't need your headlights on, no matter if it's raining or not.

But the Court of Appeals ruling says combining "the inclement-weather provision ... with the visibility provision," was incorrect. The law includes "unambiguous language," and the inclusion of "at any other time" in the third requirement makes it pretty clear the provisions should be considered independently.

They also considered whether the fact that it was "sprinkling" mattered. But the Court of Appeals determined it doesn't – even if it isn't raining hard, drops of water coming from the sky is still considered "raining."

The ruling sends the case back to the lower court to be considered again.

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