Q: I thought there were penalties for littering. Is this no longer true? I see daily tossing of cigarettes out the window. Is this litter? It seems so when we pick up for the Adopt-A-Highway program. Some years this would be a fire hazard. How much is the fine?

A: I would like to thank you, along with the many other Minnesota volunteers who participate in the Adopt-A-Highway program picking up litter along our roadways. Your work is much appreciated.

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I share your frustration with this issue. Cigarette butts, aside from their fire potential, are litter and should be disposed of properly. Many times people fill their ashtray only to later dump its contents onto the roadway.

Minnesota laws make littering of our road, as well as the ditches along our roadways, a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor in Minnesota is punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail, or both. Any second conviction under this statute requires a minimum fine of $400. Any judge may, for any violation of this law, order the offender to pick up litter along any public highway or road for four to eight hours under the direction of the Department of Transportation, with the option of a jail sentence being imposed.

Minnesota law also provides for civil liability for littering. This statute was enacted by our legislature because litter was found to be an onerous burden upon the public, and the criminal law is not always adequate in dealing with the problem. The law covers tossing cigarettes out the window, as well as glass, cans, bottles, garbage, papers, trash, cigarette filters and debris from fireworks.

It is becoming more common in many areas of the country for civil penalties to be levied upon those who are careless with smoking materials and making them financially responsible for the damage they cause, as well as the costs incurred fighting such fires. In some cases damages incurred have been in the millions of dollars!

Any conviction of the driver under this law goes onto their driving record.