Locked or not, don’t leave your car running to de-ice the windshieldMarch 1st, 2013 by travis baker
The in basket: When I was going to Olympic College back in the 1960s, a friend who drove would start his car and go back in the house on frosty mornings until the windows were clear. He managed not to get the car stolen.
PEMCO Insurance has been polling Northwest residents about things, and doing what my friend did way back then was a recent subject.
“About half (53 percent) of respondents who live in Eastern Washington deal with frost, ice or snow on their windshield each day in colder months,” a company news release said. “In the moderate temperatures on the west side of the state, about two-thirds (60 percent) of drivers tend to an icy windshield at least once per week.
“But icy windshields present more than a tedious winter task – they also can be invitations to car thieves looking for unattended, idling cars left running by drivers waiting for them to warm up,” the company said.
“According to PEMCO’s poll, about two-thirds of respondents (63 percent) who wake up to icy windshields opt to crank their car’s heater before using a scraper to clear their windshield of ice or frost or snow.
“You’ve probably seen ‘puffers’ – people who start their cars and then go back inside while the heater warms up, and that’s against the law in many areas,” the company said. “Even if you leave your car unattended for just a few minutes, that’s plenty of time for a thief to break in and drive away,” said Jon Osterberg, PEMCO Insurance spokesperson.
“In fact, Washington state law requires drivers to stop their car’s engine, lock the ignition, remove the keys and set the brake before leaving a vehicle unattended.
“Car theft isn’t the only risk posed by frosty windshields,” it continued. “The poll finds that about a quarter (24 percent) of residents in Portland and slightly fewer in Washington (17 percent) don’t always finish scraping their windshields clear of ice or snow. What’s more, an equal number are unaware that a frosty windshield could get them pulled over.”
I asked if locking your car with a second set of keys and leaving it running changed the picture. I also asked my State Patrol contact if fog or ice on the other windows can be cause for a citation.
The out basket: Not at all, Osterberg told me. It still would be illegal and professional car thieves aren’t deterred much by locked doors. Some professional thieves cruise neighborhoods looking for an unoccupied car running and would have the ability to enter the car quickly and steal it, locked or not, he said.
State Trooper Russ Winger had this to say about my second question:
“You need to be able see out of the vehicle in order to drive
safely. That would include front, rear and side windows. It would
be a basic violation of driving with due care. It is just plain
dangerous to yourself and other motorists to drive with obscured
“You can be stopped for this and potentially issued a citation.
“Taking a few minutes to scrape ice, snow or defrost the windows so you can see properly is not to much to expect from any motorist,” Russ said. “If a driver causes an accident due to this lack of common sense and basic effort, one could make a case for a negligent driving citation.