You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 5:59 a.m.

Taking every precaution in winter weather conditions will pay off for drivers

By Rich Kinsey

020211-AJC-snow-storm-05.JPG file photo

Several years ago I pulled over a woman who must have thought she was a tank commander. The spot she had cleared from her windshield was roughly the size of a business envelope. Her side and rear windows similarly were covered with frost, but had not been scraped at all. More frightening was the fact that she was headed toward I-94.

I pulled the “tank commander” over and it was no small task. It took a blip or two from the siren to resonate into her frosted cocoon. She pulled into a gas station lot just before the expressway.

She was indignant and had enough clueless arrogance to demand why she was being pulled over. I should have known, her New Hampshire plate announced “Live Free or Die” and apparently I was limiting her freedom. Her demand came before I could even introduce myself and explain why I was stopping her — like I do on all my traffic stops.

I told her that her job of scraping the frost was unacceptable for the conditions. I told her that if she would scrape her windows so they were not a vision obstruction I would be giving her a warning—as long as she had a valid license and no warrants. She got busy, and I strolled back to my police car, took a sip of the ever-present but unfortunately tepid coffee and ran the computer checks on her.

She already was done when I got back up to her car. I had to chuckle before she opened the frosted driver’s window to retrieve her license. It was incredible.

She had increased the clear portion of her windshield to include the driver’s half, but not all the way to the wipers and one scrape on both her driver and passenger side front windows. Clearly she did not care where she had already been because her rear window was untouched and apparently unequipped with a rear window defroster. I was dumbfounded and a little cranky.

“Seriously ma'am? Do you really think these windows are cleared?”

“Yes. Now give me my license so I can be on my way,” she demanded.

“Yes ma'am, I will be happy to give you your license when all of your windows are completely clear of frost. I mean all your windows and all the glass surfaces and your rearview mirrors as well. Let me know when you are done.”

I went back to my car and had no idea why she would not clear the windows, especially after the police had stopped her. We were out of traffic and I noticed she certainly was dressed for the weather. She wore a heavy parka, knit hat, corduroys and gloves. So neither the traffic nor her protection from the elements were the issue she had not completed the job the first time. I watched and she was angry as she scraped, but scrape she did.

When I walked back to her car, I thanked her for her cooperation and warned her to keep her windows clear. I handed her license back—sans a ticket—and she roared off with clear windows.

Driving with fogged or frosted over windows is really dangerous! You have to be able to see to drive—it is just that simple.

Winter is coming. Make sure you have an ice scraper and snow brush in your car before Mother Nature “surprises” you. Scraping frost or ice is no fun with a credit card, but it will work in “combat conditions.”

You also should consider getting a “de-icer” windshield wiper solvent and make sure to keep your solvent reservoir full. That solvent will come in handy when your windshield gets covered with that brown-gray salty road spray or mist that builds up —especially on the expressway.

Polarized sunglasses also are a necessity during the winter. The polarizing filters in those shades reduce reflective glare—of which there is plenty from dirty windshields or bouncing off bright white fields of snow. They also are necessary because sunrises and sunset come closer to rush hour as our hemisphere tilts away from the sun during the winter.

For those who prefer to warm their car, prior to travel, that is a great idea for visibility—not so much for the environment. If you choose to warm up the buggy before seat belting yourself in, make sure you do not leave the keys in the ignition while the car is unlocked.

Just as sure as Jack Frost will cover your windshield and auto glass some time this winter, two or three Ann Arborites and several more pizza delivery drivers will learn the hard way about keys left in the ignition of unlocked cars.

The good news is that usually those stolen vehicles are locally recovered. The bad news is those vehicles will be recovered with varying degrees of dents, scrapes, damage and thefts from within—it just depends on how wild the “joy-riding” thief drives it from your driveway.

Lock your doors, take your keys and employ an ice scraper to avoid that plight.

For parents of young drivers, especially those untested in snowy conditions, make sure your young driver knows that, even with ABS brakes, it takes a much greater distance to stop a vehicle. You also might quickly caution those young drivers that wet leaves spread over the roadway can provide an unexpected slickness that also adversely effects stopping distances and causes motoring drama. The best tip for young drivers—even better than don’t text or talk on a cell phone—slow down!

Keep your windshields clear and enjoy the autumnal beauty and Winter Wonderland we are afforded here in Michigan.

Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.

Rich Kinsey is a retired Ann Arbor police detective sergeant who now blogs about crime and safety for



Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 3:54 a.m.

Did you have to remind us that winter is coming?

Dr. Fate

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 1:22 a.m.

CD jewel cases also make great impromptu ice scrapers. MP3 players and iPhones... not so much.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:45 p.m.

The most serious safety problem in Washtenaw County and Ann Arbor resides at the DPWs who fail to clear snow and ice from roads, claiming to "save money" at the expense of tax payer driver safety. As bad as texting, icy windshields and other distractions are, the wreckage left on our roads and in area hospitals and cemeteries by incompetent administrators and workers is far worse. They laugh at the danger they create as mom's drive their kids to school on ice and snow covered roads for a simple reason - they want your family to fear these well planned cut backs so next time a local tax increase appears on the ballot - you better vote for it. It's time for some unemployed lawyer to make a new hobby out of holding these clowns personally liable for ignoring their obligations to those who pay them.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 7:46 p.m.

@ Cory The "Warm up your engine before you drive" myth has been debunked several times by several experts. While it's true that different metals warm up at different rates an idling engine takes much longer to warm up, so it ends up experiencing far more cold-start wear and tear than if you just hopped in and drove it. Other parts like the transmission and wheel bearings don't warm up until you actually start moving. Plus, the catalytic converter (if it hasn't been taken by thieves) doesn't kick in until the engine warms up. Until then, your emissions are through the roof. The engine & car will warm up faster once you start moving. Just avoid highway speeds and rapid acceleration for a few miles, and you can drive right off. Of course, this only applies to newer, fuel-injected cars. If you have a carbureted classic then you'll have to let it warm up.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 4:33 p.m.

THANK YOU! More people need to learn to be vigilant in the winter. However, this statement: "For those who prefer to warm their car, prior to travel, that is a great idea for visibility—not so much for the environment." That gives me shivers. Your car will not like you if you just start it up and drive off. Your oil will be black, your piston rings will be cracked, your bearings will want to spin like a top, and your pistons may exit the block if you don't properly warm up your car. Aluminum and steel don't expand at the same rate, and that's why you need to let your car warm up when you start it. Not just so that the heater works.

Jake C

Fri, Oct 26, 2012 : 2:05 a.m.

That's not entirely accurate Cory. Even in cold weather (and we're talking around 0F, not -50) modern cars only need to warm up for about a minute or two max before being driven. They will warm up better and faster by driving them under low to average acceleration. You might just need to wear some gloves, but that's winter. Now, it's true that its not a good idea to start your car and then immediately jump on the highway and accelerate like you're in the Indy 500, but all the other gear-heads I know agree that you generally cause more engine wear by letting it "warm up" for 10 minutes at idle speed compared to 2-5 minutes of gentle city driving at 2000-3000 rpm. And it's certainly not going to cause your "pistons to exit the block".

Ann English

Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:21 p.m.

Warming the car helps melt the frost off the windows, both because of the warmth on one side of the window glass, and the defroster running to melt the frost off both the front and rear windshields. I don't leave my car unattended while it's warming up, I scrape where the defroster and windshield wipers don't reach.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 4:38 p.m.

I didn't actually know that. Thanks for sharing.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 1:40 p.m.

This article makes me excited for winter! The excitement usually lasts till Jan. 1st.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

My excitement for winter is even shorter. I lose it in September. The first frost warning and scraping that thin layer of ice off my car windows at 6 am usually does it.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 12:49 p.m.

Rich, I wish we had a whole lot more of you on the streets. I am amazed at how often I see this woman driving in winter. Your tips, such as polarized sunglasses and deicer windshield fluid, are great.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:53 a.m.

Oh Rich. Your stories always give me such a chuckle. How I'd love to buy you a coffee and hear some of them someday.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:22 a.m.

+1 on the high quality/lower temp de-icer windshield wiper fluid!! People always forget that when its 20F out and you're doing 70mph that adds a significant wind-chill factor and will freeze most washer fluids. Id also encourage everyone to get good quality snow tires. AWD/4x4 lets you go, but what about stopping and turning?


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 3:36 p.m.

crayzee I was going to mention that.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 1:52 p.m.

To nit-pick a bit, only humans can feel wind-chill. Inanimate objects cannot. Therefore washer fluid is no more likely to freeze at 20F and 70 MPH than it is at 20F and 5MPH. The breeze may cause it to freeze more quickly, but it can't make it more likely. That said, I fully agree with the spirit of the comment (and the article) and wish that drivers in the area would take winter driving much more seriously.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:56 a.m.

I've been hooked on the Rain-X brand ever since it came out. It also makes your wipers last a lot longer cause I think the chemical "conditions" the wipers too.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:02 a.m.

".... the size of a business envelope." That had me laughing. She must be the same driver I see every winter. At least she can honestly say she didn't see any cars before she pulled out into traffic.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 10:28 a.m.

You should have ticketed her. Idiots like her won't learn otherwise.


Thu, Oct 25, 2012 : 11:55 a.m.

She probably drove off indigent as ever thinking the cop was completely in the wrong and SHE was right. She's not the only one like that though.....