Idling cars and frosty windshields pose risks to Northwest winter drivers



​​​​​SEATTLE – 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, 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.

About the PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll
PEMCO Insurance commissioned this independent survey that asked Washington and Oregon drivers several questions about driving habits and attitudes toward current Northwest issues. The sample size, 609 respondents in Washington and 401 respondents in the Portland, Ore., metro area, yields an accuracy of +/- 4.1 percent and +/- 5.0 percent respectively at the 95 percent confidence level. In other words, if this study were conducted 100 times, in 95 instances the data will not vary by more than the associated error range.

About PEMCO Insurance
PEMCO Insurance, established in 1949, is a Seattle-based provider of auto, home, boat and umbrella insurance to Northwest residents. PEMCO Insurance is sold by community agents throughout the region and through PEMCO offices. For more information, visit