Drivers too lazy to defrost

Of all the hazards on winter roads, one of the most dangerous is also one of the least publicized: driver laziness.

A new international survey finds a third of people fail to properly clear the windshield before setting out, with most claiming to be “in too much of a rush” to endure the defrosting process. Similarly, the Canadian Automobile Association reports that drivers who don’t bother clearing the “igloo” of snow and ice from atop their vehicles are “one of our most significant” winter road perils.

“It’s a very serious issue,” says Jeff Walker, vice-president of public affairs for the CAA. “If a car gets parked for a number of days, you get snow-ice-snow — like layers in a cake —–and it can end up going through somebody’s windshield.”

In a severe example, an Illinois driver last week required reconstructive facial surgery after one such projectile torpedoed through his windshield, smashing his nose, shattering the lower portion of his eye socket and tearing his iris.

There’s no national database on accidents linked to mobile igloos but Mr. Walker says the CAA, in co-operation with Transport Canada, believes they’re one of the most pervasive winter driving problems.

“Most people are pretty focused on themselves, making sure that they can see out their window. But they forget about the igloo, which is what impacts other people,” says Mr. Walker.

In a recent survey of some 4,000 European drivers, Continental Tyres found one in three don’t fully clear their windshield before driving off. Of those peephole drivers, more than half believe such neglect is wrong but nonetheless continue the behaviour.

“Men appear to be worse offenders than women, and are a staggering 129% more likely … to have had a near-miss on the roads in the winter because they set off before clearing their windscreen properly,” says Tim Bailey, head of safety at Continental.

“(Men) admit to driving off with more than 40% of the windscreen still frozen. Women fare better, with an average 70% visibility — although even that is not enough.”

According to a report by Today’s Trucking, accumulated ice on a trailer can weigh as much as two tonnes. But in surveying U.S. and Canadian fleets, the American Transportation Research Institute found more than half of respondents “rarely or never” remove accrued snow and ice from their rigs.

Ottawa’s Scott Paterson, whose windshield was recently struck by a “flying chunk of crusty snow,” is incensed by such negligence, among drivers of every stripe.

“There are those who do nothing more than use their arm or wipers to clean off the windshield … Then there are those who also clear a small hole on the rear window. And there are those who clear all but the roof,” says Mr. Paterson. “They’re lazy morons who need to be fined — heavily.”

Laws around snow removal from vehicles vary from province to province. For those unsure of their region’s regulations, the CAA’s Walker says the answer is simple: remove it all.

Photograph by: Christina Ryan/Calgary Herald