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Idling Cars and Frosty Windshields Pose Risks to Northwest Winter Drivers


driving in snow and ice

SEATTLE--Jan. 31, 2013: Scraping a frosty windshield is a winter-weather chore shared by many Northwest drivers, especially those who live east of the Cascades. But regardless of geography, the latest poll from PEMCO Insurance shows that some drivers' ice-removing habits may leave them out in the cold.

According to the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll, 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. 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.

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. 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.  Oregon state law uses similar language and holds drivers to the same requirements.

Car theft isn't the only risk posed by frosty windshields. 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.

Washington and Oregon laws state that windshields must be kept free of any non-transparent material, which includes frost, ice and snow.

"You must make sure the driver's view is completely unobstructed," Osterberg said. "Scraping just enough to see straight ahead is dangerous -- your field of view isn't broad enough to react to cars or people coming from other angles."

To learn more about the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll and to view a summary of the results, visit PEMCO Poll, where the public is invited to participate in an informal version of the poll and see how their own responses compare with those collected by FBK Research of Seattle in October 2012.