Q: Am I legally required to “de-snow” my vehicle before driving? — Jonathan S., Spanaway.
A: It turns out the answer to this question is not as black-and-snow-white as we would like.
We received contradictory information on the topic from sources we know and trust, which we will share a bit later.
First, let us let Jonathan expound on what he means by “de-snow,” which, apparently, he was forced to do last week after that dratted “weather event” that sent us here at Traffic Q&A headquarters scrambling to find child care when the schools closed down for two days.
Sorry. We digress.
But it is important to Jonathan’s story to note that said weather event dumped, depending on where you normally park your car for the night, from several inches to more than a foot of snow on our fair region.
Some of that snow presumably gathered atop vehicles left outside the garage, including Jonathan’s pickup.
We’ll let him take it from here:
“It has been awhile since my truck has had a foot of snow on top of it. I brushed the snow off the top of my truck before departing but saw many vehicles on the road whose owners did not.
“Does the law say I have to, or am I just being a nice guy by not ‘bombing’ driver with snow behind me?”
The man from Spanaway was not the only person with snow “bombing” on his mind in the aftermath of the storm. It’s been a bit of a hot topic on the old Innertubes of late.
In fact, Washington State Patrol trooper Brian Moore, who patrols Chelan, Douglas, Grant, Kittitas, and Okanogan counties, set off a bit of a tweetstorm Wednesday when he posted a photo of an SUV with about a foot of snow on the roof and included the caption: “IS THIS LEGAL?”
The consensus of his followers, if we might paraphrase, is: IT SHOULDN’T BE!
Still, we put the question to Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool.
“Brushing off your entire car is a courtesy,” she responded. “What is required is the windows for line of sight.”
The Washington Driver Guide addresses the “line of sight” question under a section titled, “Clean Glass Surfaces,” a subsection of the chapter, “Before You Drive.”
“Clear snow, ice or frost from all windows before driving,” it states.
Note that it says “all” windows. Scratching a little hole in the front windshield that only the driver can see out of will not suffice.
The Driver Guide does not say anything specifically about clearing snow from the rest of the vehicle.
We were ready, therefore, to issue a resounding “brushing your entire car is optional” answer to Jonathan’s question.
But then Trooper Moore followed his original tweet with a second.
“This is BOTH ILLEGAL & UNSAFE if snow/ice starts falling from vehicle.” In other words, the bombing Jonathan S. referenced in his missive to us, a phenomenon also known as launching “ice missiles” in some other jurisdictions.
The good Mr. Moore included a citation to RCW 46.61.655, titled, “Dropping load, other materials – Covering.”
That law requires people transporting things with their vehicles to secure and cover the loads to prevent debris from blowing loose and into the road, thereby causing a hazard.
It makes no mention of snow, but it does including the following under Subsection 4(b):
“Any vehicle with deposits of mud, rocks or other debris on the vehicle’s body, fenders, frame, undercarriage, wheels or tires shall be cleaned of such material before the operation of the vehicle on a paved public highway.”
Could an argument be made that snow might be classified as “other debris” or “such material”? We have learned over the years to never say never.
Alas, Trooper Rick Johnson, Moore’s colleague in the State Patrol, told mynorthwest.com last week that he did not think the “secured loads” law applied to snow, saying that would be “a bit odd.”
So what’s a driver to do?
As we often tell our progeny, there is what’s required and what is right. Sometimes they are the same thing, but sometimes not.
It seems to us that brushing off your entire vehicle, even if not required by law, is the right thing to do.
So be a good egg, like Jonathan S., and, if at all possible, “de-snow” your ride.