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Driving Concerns

Can I be ticketed for not clearing the snow off my car? Add to ...

I was just reading about the Winnipeg guy who got a $240 ticket because he had snow on top his van. Is the charge the same here? I see idiots driving around like this all the time; sometimes you can’t even tell what colour the cars are. They turn on their wipers and go, thinking the snow will blow off, and it does – onto somebody else’s windshield. – Carl, Toronto

If you give the brush-off to brushing snow off your car, you probably won’t get fined in Ontario – as long as you can see out.

But if the snow or ice hits another car’s windshield and the driver of that car gets in a crash, you could be found responsible, and your insurance and driving record could take a hit.

“If a large amount of snow/ice were to come off a vehicle and cause a collision, the investigator would have to determine the involvement of the vehicle in the collision,” said Const. Clint Stibbe, with Toronto Police traffic services. “The driver with the snow or ice coming off of the car could be found at fault.”

A Winnipeg man said he was pulled over by police on his way to the hockey rink and fined $237.50 for having 7-10 centimetres of snow on his van. The charge? Driving with an unsecured load.

“When I rolled down my window, he asked me why did I have so much snow on my roof, and I didn’t know what to say,” Jonathan McCullough told CBC. “I was completely dumbfounded by his question.”

Ontario doesn’t specifically ban driving with snow on your car.

But section 74 of the Highway Traffic Act says you have to be able to see clearly out of your front, front side and rear windows (although there’s an exception for rear windows if you can see with mirrors). The fine is $85 plus a $25 surcharge. It’s up to police to decide what “clearly” means (hint: it doesn’t mean scraping a peephole through the frost with your credit card).

“The other day, I was (off-duty) and saw a person driving 30 km/h and all you could see was the two windshield-wiper marks,” Stibbe said. “If that person made a lane change and killed somebody, that would go to criminal negligence.

But at least one police department is charging drivers under other sections. Ottawa Police have given drivers $110 fines under section 181, which bans dumping snow on a roadway without permission, said Const. Chuck Benoit, Ottawa police spokesman. Benoit said he had no numbers of how many people have been charged with the violation.

"We have not been charging ‎under that section to my knowledge," said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, spokesman for Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) traffic services, when told of the Ottawa Police tactic. Schmidt said driving with snow on your car isn't illegal under the HTA - but it's "irresponsible and potentially unsafe."

You can also get fined $85 plus the surcharge if snow, ice or frost is covering your licence plate or mirrors. But a snowy roof won’t get you a ticket in Ontario for driving with an unsecured load under Section 111 of the HTA.

“It’s not a load under that section because you haven’t loaded it on,” Stibbe said.

Again, if that snow causes someone else to crash, you may not get charged, but you could be listed as indirectly responsible. Insurance companies would consider that when determining fault, he said.

“Having too much snow on your car – that charge doesn’t exist,” Stibbe said. “But let’s say a piece of ice comes off your car and strikes a vehicle and that vehicle goes into the guardrail and kills somebody – If your negligence has caused death or injury, we could be looking at criminal charges.”

Stibbe said police don’t expect drivers of big rigs to climb on top of their trailers to clear off ice and snow – but drivers of normal vehicles shouldn’t have much problem getting most of the snow off with a brush.

The rules vary by province – but they all say you have to be able to see out of your car.

For instance, Quebec includes snow under section 498 of its Highway Safety Code, said the société de l’assurance automobile du Quebec (SAAQ).

The section says “no driver may allow any substance to fall from the vehicle.”

Why the flurry of rules around snow? Won’t it just blow off on its own? Yep, and that’s the problem.

“The danger comes from the lack of ability for someone else to see,” Stibbe said. “It comes down to drivers being lazy – we like to take shortcuts, but that shortcut could cost somebody their life.”

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada’s a big place, so please let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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