Hey you! Yeah, you – peering from the teensy opening you managed to scrape from the ice on your windshield. You’re driving us crazy and you’re a public nuisance. We also suspect you don’t care what we think.
But clearing your car of snow and ice is the law. Legalities are almost beside the point, though, given that few things jack up a driver’s blood pressure in winter more than the sight of you doofuses rolling along in your two-ton igloos.
“If someone drove during the summer with cardboard taped to their windows, they would be ticketed,” said Caroline Thoms of Scandia, Minn. “It’s part of living in Minnesota, taking the time to scrape.”
And there it is: the sad-but-true fact that, once it starts snowing, living where the frost is a regular occurrence takes more time.
“Just like we tell people it’s going to take you a little longer to get places, it’s going to take a little longer to clear off your car,” said Lt. Eric Roeske of the Minnesota State Patrol. “Just plan on taking that extra time.”
It’s called “peephole driving,” the death-defying belief that peering through a Frisbee-sized porthole in your windshield enables you to see pedestrians at crosswalks, cars in adjoining lanes, hapless bicyclists, leashless dogs and other clueless drivers.
In New York, “peephole driving” is prohibited by Section 375 of the state Vehicle and Traffic Law, which, oddly enough, does not specifically refer to snow or ice. Section 30 says, “It shall be unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle with any object placed or hung in or upon the vehicle, except required or permitted equipment of the vehicle, in such a manner as to obstruct or interfere with the view of the operator through the windshield, or to prevent him from having a clear and full view of the road and condition of traffic behind such vehicle.”
That vague rule could change. Identical bills in the Senate and Assembly Transportation Committee “Provides that motor vehicles, with certain exceptions, shall not be operated with an accumulation of snow or ice on the surface thereof.” The bill also establishes fines for violation of this law and divides up the fine money in the “snow and ice removal fund” with 10 percent of the funds going to an annual DMV report on the fund and to a public awareness campaign, 25 percent going to each the DOT and the Thruway authority for establishing snow and ice removal sites on their roads and 30 percent for a DOT grant program.
Joe Zahner used to be a peephole driver. “Of course, I had an excuse because I was new to Minnesota from California,” he said, adding that his neighbors in St. Louis Park, Minn., still regard him as a newcomer, as he arrived only 16 years ago.
“I had a couple of scares and have changed my ways,” he said. Now he starts his car, parked outdoors, then scrapes as it warms up. “That helps to clean off the snow and ice from the windows.”
Wasting fuel? Maybe. But he’s found that the easier scraping (and then climbing into a warmed-up car) “is worth the 25 to 50 cents expended.”
One more tip: After years of keeping his snow brush and scraper in the trunk, Zahner learned that it’s better to keep them tucked somewhere in the front seat. In sight, in mind.
Subsidizing an idling car makes more sense than risking a citation for obscured vision, which in Minnesota can run you upwards of $130, Roeske said.
While the actual statute says only that windshield and front side windows must not be obscured “to such an extent as to prevent proper vision,” Roeske said the safest drivers brush snow from their hoods, roofs, rear windows, headlights and taillights.
While Minnesota law specifies only having proper vision, some states leave no wiggle room. Pennsylvania drivers now must remove all ice and snow from a vehicle’s hood, roof and windshield before driving. If any snow or ice flies off the car and causes a car accident or personal injury, they can be fined up to $1,000. New Jersey drivers also must clear hoods, roofs and windshields, although the fines are $25 to $75.
Driving safe is no joke. Maggie Melin of Minneapolis said her dad’s car was hit by a driver peering through a peephole. “It totaled both cars and left my dad with herniated discs in his back,” she said. “Our rule growing up was we were not to leave the driveway until all windows and headlights were cleared, edge to edge. No excuses. Keys were taken away if we drove without everything being cleared.”
The whole-car treatment helps keep you from becoming what Dave Kingsley of Duluth, Minn., calls “these comets” – cars that speed by with a tail of snow swirling from their roofs, leaving other drivers blinded. Even worse is getting hit by a flying avalanche when big chunks let loose.