Q: This morning I received a citation for a number of offenses involving winter driving laws—can you clarify why that happened?
While it may seem strange, Pennsylvania—along with some other northeastern states—do have laws that are aimed specifically at winter driving. Because of the massive snow storms that we are often faced with, in addition to icing conditions and poor visibility, it was important to the state of Pennsylvania to address key safety issues for drivers operating in wintry weather.
Keeping Your Car Clear of Winter Accumulation
One of the specific winter driving laws involves clearing your vehicle of ice and snow. Many people assume that as long as they can safely see out of their front windshield, and possibly their rear windshield, that they are in compliance. These are the people we often see zipping around town with a large cap of snow of the roof of their car.
If you have ever driven behind one of these cars, however, you know the possible dangers they can bring—at best, decreased visibility for cars behind them, and possibly even injury caused by a large piece of snow or ice falling off and hitting a trailing vehicle.
Currently, drivers will only be fined if a piece of snow or ice from their car causes injury or death to another driver or pedestrian, with fines ranging from $200 to $1,000. New bills going through legislation, however, are seeking to make it mandatory for cars and tractor-trailers to remove all snow and ice. These bills are the product of a young woman’s death after a chunk of ice fell from a tractor-trailer and struck her vehicle, causing a fatal crash.
When hitting the road this winter, give yourself extra time to clear off all surfaces of your car as completely as possible—not only will it protect other drivers, but it will help keep you safe, as well.
Visibility, Headlights, and Windshield Wipers
Pennsylvania is notorious for its law requiring drivers to use their headlights any time their windshield wipers are engaged. Many drivers misinterpret the law and assume that daytime running lights are acceptable, but according to the law, these lights won’t cut it. Daytime running lights usually do not engage your tail lights, and in times that call for windshield wipers, other drivers may also benefit from your increased visibility from tail lights.
That brings up another regulation regarding headlights. Even if your windshield wipers are not in use, when visibility is deteriorated, your headlights (again, not just your daytime running lights) must be on. While there is an added perk of helping you see, the primary benefit is that other drivers can see you.
The Big Picture
While your citation may be frustrating, the bottom line is that the rules you were in violation of are meant to keep you, as well as your fellow drivers, safe. The few extra minutes it may take you to brush off your car thoroughly or remind yourself to use your headlights do not cost you much in the moment, but could save you a lot of time, money, and pain by avoiding an unnecessary accident.