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Can GPS units be illegal in cars?

By Trooper Andy Schmidt of the Minnesota State Patrol

Question: I see a lot of people with GPS units on their dash or hanging from the windshield blocking their view. Would you please settle the debate at our house and tell us whether this is legal or not? I am betting it is illegal.

Answer: The answer depends on the circumstances. Statute 169.71 sb 1 (a) states, "A person shall not drive or operate any motor vehicle with:" and then clause (2) states, "any objects suspended between the driver and the windshield, other than sun visors and rearview mirrors and electronic toll collection devices." So as I write this article, if the GPS unit is suspended from the windshield it is mounted illegally.

I might be splitting hairs here but I have been telling people that if they mount the GPS unit so that it is sitting on the dash and only using the suction cups against the windshield to stabilize it, I will take that as being mounted on the dash and it can be mounted on the dash as long as it is not interfering with the driver's view.

The popularity of GPS units appears to be growing. I would like to caution drivers to make certain that the unit is mounted so that it does not interfere with your vision or distract you from driving.

Also, you are the driver and responsible for your actions. Just because your GPS unit says you should turn left at the next intersection doesn't mean you should do so blindly. Maybe the street was recently changed to a one-way street and you would be going the wrong way.

With that scenario in mind, if I were the officer and you told me you were just doing what your GPS unit told you to do, I would take that as affirmation that you were not paying attention to what you were doing. It is up to you "the driver" (not the GPS unit) to pay attention to your driving and the conditions.

Just for giggles: A few months back one of the traffic signal lights in Wadena at 10 and 71 was damaged and had to be replaced. While some of us officers had eastbound 10 from that intersection blocked for the repair truck, a lady approached from the north on 71. She insisted on turning east onto 10 and the officer informed her she couldn't due to traffic signal repairs. She was instructed to go one block farther south and then turn left to go around the block. She absolutely insisted on turning left here because her GPS unit said she should turn left now. Duh, yep!

Also, Trooper Andy never worries about whether or not he can understand his GPS unit. The instructions are always precise, clear, loud and in simple language. Of course, after 32-plus years of marriage, one would assume the wife would know how to tell you what to do. Ha! Ha!

As always, be careful out there!

Parents, don't just hand over the keys to your new driver. Please take the time to ride with them and let them gain experience before allowing them to face the dangers of a public road on their own.

If you have any questions concerning traffic-related laws in Minnesota, send your questions to Trooper Andy Schmidt, Minnesota State Patrol, 1000 Highway 10 West, Detroit Lakes, MN 56501-2205. Or reach me at