Too many scrape by with 'peephole driving'

  • Article by: KIM ODE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 10, 2013 - 8:29 AM

Photo: Eddie Thomas, Star Tribune

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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. “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 here 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.

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 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.

Saving time could cost you

Subsidizing an idling car makes more sense than risking a citation for obscured vision, which 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.

This should not be equated with rocket science.

True, most drivers do a good job of brushing off the white stuff (hey, we get to use that phrase once in a winter.) That’s why the ne’er-do-scrapers stand out.

What keeps them from taking a minute or two to do the right thing? Let us guess: They’re cold. They’re in a hurry. It’s hard to scrape while on the phone. They don’t own a scraper. They’re dumb.

Can’t think of anything else.

No wiggle room

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.

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