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.
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 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.
Personal note: A cherished memory is the time a car whose roof was heaped with snow came to a sudden stop. That sent the ledge of snow sliding down onto its windshield. Fwomp! The light turned green. Cars honked. Priceless.
Dan Pidde of Bloomington is a conscientious car brusher-offer, knowing that it takes two minutes, tops, to do the job.
“I have considered buying a case of cheap snow brushes to give away to people as a hint that they need to brush off their car,” he said, although such Samaritanism is a considered risk.
“People that drive around in moving snowbanks are dangerous to themselves and others,” he said. “It is about the same as people who drive a white car in a snowstorm without their headlights on.”
Which is an issue for another day.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185
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