Steer Clear of Winter Driving Woes

Posted December 3, 2009 in Criminal Law by

In my hometown of Chicago, we’ve been enjoying mild la nina weather over the past few months. The latest "first snowfall" on record in Chicago occurred on Dec. 5, 1999, but typically we see flakes in October and measurable snow in November. As of today, no snow, though there’s a chance snow may arrive this afternoon or over the weekend.

If you’ve also been enjoying warmer-than-usual weather in your hometown, you may have given little thought to winter preparation, particularly the laws and common sense guidelines as they relate to foul-weather driving.

Anyone who’s lived and driven in a snowy climate knows that driving in snowy and icy conditions presents a host of unique problems. In many states, there are specific laws that address winter driving, but even if your state doesn’t have such rules, it still makes sense to follow these guidelines.

  • Avoid peephole driving. When you’re rushing to get into your car, it’s annoying to discover that your windshields are covered with snow and ice. No one enjoys having to scrape it clean, and people are often tempted to clear just enough of the windshield so they can peer though a clean peephole. Not only is this dangerous–it radically reduces your ability to see pedestrians, vehicles and other obstacles–but it’s illegal in several states. If your windows are covered with snow and ice, start your car, turn on the defrosters and take the time to clear off all of your windows, mirrors, headlights and tail lights. Don’t be a peephole driver.
  • While you’re at it, brush the snow off your vehicle’s roof. Have you ever driven down the highway behind a car covered with snow on its roof and hood? If the vehicle picks up speed or the car starts to warm up, the snow and ice starts flying off–straight onto the cars and people behind it. These chunks of snow and ice have potential to injure or kill people and damage other cars. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, drivers can be cited if snow from their car causes damage or injury. Even if you live elsewhere, make a reasonable effort to remove the snow and ice from the top of your vehicle.
  • Turn on your headlights if it’s snowing. Many states require drivers to turn on their headlights if they are using their windshield wipers. While most of us automatically assume this means we should turn on our lights if it’s raining, we should also turn on our headlights if it’s snowing. White-out conditions and snow-covered roads can quickly occur during wintertime and headlights help ensure that oncoming cars can see you.
  • Use caution when driving in hazardous conditions. Did you know you can be ticketed, in some circumstances, for driving at or below the posted speed limit? Let’s say the speed limit is 55 mph, but the road is icy and hasn’t been recently plowed. Common sense says you should slow down, but some state traffic laws require you to slow down and drive with care. If a police officer thinks you’re driving in an unsafe manner–even if you’re just driving at the speed limit–you can be ticketed.
  • Know your state’s laws regarding the legal usage of snow chains and studded tires. State laws vary as to the use of snow chains and studded tires designed to increase traction in winter weather. Before using any of these tools on your vehicle, check to ensure that they are legal in your state.

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