Criminal Law

Be Careful Driving - and Parking - This Winter!

"It's the most wonderful time of the year." Winter brings the holidays, but for many of us across the US, winter brings much more. Snow, ice and slush will soon cover the sidewalks and streets, and snow plows and salt trucks take to the streets to make them safe for travel. This winter, be careful about how you drive and where you park.

"Peephole" Driving

Maybe you've seen it: A car driving down the road with just enough snow and ice cleared from the windshield to allow the driver to see and drive. Maybe you've even done it yourself. This phenomenon has come to be known as "peephole" driving. And although it's probably been going on since cars were first invented, this year may be different.

In some states, counties, and cities, there are new laws against peephole driving. In Pennsylvania, for instance, drivers are now required to remove all ice and snow from their vehicles' hood, roof and windshield before driving. If you don't do so and snow or ice flies off of your car and causes a car accident or personal injury, you may have to pay a fine between $200 and $1,000.

Under a new law in New Jersey, you also have to clear your hood, roof and windshield. If you don't follow this law, you face a fine between $25 and $75, whether or not there's an accident or injury caused by snow or ice from your car.

Many police departments don't need a special law. Most states or cities have laws about driving with "obstructed" vision. You can get a traffic citation or ticket by driving with a windshield or window that's covered or partially covered with ice or snow and the coverage impairs your ability to clearly and fully see out of the window or windshield.

Parking Bans

In many states, cities, villages and townships, the government puts parking bans or no-parking zones in effect when there's a "snow emergency" or some other winter weather event. Typically, the parking bans are used to keep the streets clear of parked vehicles so that snow plows and salt trucks can navigate the streets safely and quickly.

The bans are usually in effect for several hours at night and into the early morning hours. Sometimes there are signs posted on streets that state something like, "No Parking During Snow Emergency." You can't park on any street with such a sign, and it's up to you to keep up with local weather forecasts to see if a snow emergency has been declared. Local television news, radio stations or web sites typically let the public know about these emergencies. In other areas, lights and signals may be used to notify the public about parking bans.

The laws vary greatly depending on your state and local laws.

For example, in Burlington, Vermont, once a ban is declared, there's no parking allowed on city streets and city-owned parking lots between 10 PM and 7 AM. When the ban is needed, yellow snow lights are turned on before 3 PM, meaning the ban is in effect for all city streets, not just those with the yellow lights. If you're parked on the street or in a city lot during a ban, your car will be towed to another street and you'll get a $95 parking ticket.

In Chicago, Illinois, there's a parking ban from December 1 through April 1 on the city's busiest thoroughfares. It lasts from 3 AM to 7 AM regardless of snow.

Where do you park? On a street where there's no emergency signage, or in areas designated by the city or village. For instance, in Burlington, you may pay park free-of-charge in any city-owned parking garage during the parking ban.

Be Safe and Save Some Money and Aggravation

This winter, take some extra time in the morning to clear your windshield, windows, hood and roof of snow and ice. Not only will it help you avoid an accident caused by poor visibility, but also accidents or damages caused by snow and ice flying off your car.

And watch where you park. Pay attention to the streets in your neighborhood that are and aren't posted as snow emergency or parking ban zones. When snow is in the forecast, park in your driveway or a designated safe area. Otherwise, you may end up waking up before the sun to run out into the cold in your pajamas to move your car to safety.

With a little extra time and planning, you can be safe and save some money and aggravation this winter.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Snow and ice flew off a car in front of me on the way to work and my car's hood was dented. The other car didn't stop, but I have the license plate number, and my passenger and another driver witnessed the whole thing. Can I get the other driver to pay for the damages? How can I find out who owns the car?
  • Due to budget cuts, my city cut down on plowing and salting my street. I was in an accident when I skidded into a tree when driving down my street. Is the city responsible for the damages to my car?
  • My car was towed out of a no parking zone and it was broken into on the street where it was towed. Doesn't the city have to make sure that my car is somewhere safe? Is the city responsible for my losses?
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