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Why you could be breaking the law when you de-ice your car

A cold snap means it’s time to dig out the ice scraper (Tim Ockenden/PA Images via Getty Images)

The first cold snap of the season will have seen thousands of motorists frantically scraping ice off their car windscreens this morning.

But few will have realised that many of them may well have been breaking the law in the process.

While it’s tempting to start the car, turn the heater up to full and retreat back inside the house for a cup of tea, leaving the engine running and the vehicle unattended is against the law.

MORE: This is how UK drivers break the law without even knowing it

Drivers have to be “in control” of their vehicle at all times. A motorist has been fined £30 for defrosting his car outside his home because he left it unattended with the engine running.

What does the law say?
The Highway Code states that “windows and windscreens must be kept clean and free of obstructions to vision”.
You must clear the ice (or snow) from all of your windows, as well as both the front and rear windscreen, before driving.
Clearing a small ‘hole’ on the driver’s side, big enough to see out of will not cut it with police – you must be able to see fully out of the front, back and side windows.
The Highway Code also says that “lights, indicators, reflectors and number plates must be kept clear”.

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Drivers must clear all snow and ice from their windscreens and windows before setting off (Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images)

Can I turn the car on and go back inside?
As already mentioned, the law says motorists must be in control of their vehicle at all times – so, while you would be most likely OK if you start it up on your drive and head back inside to wait for the heater to do its work, it’s a risk.
Not only that, of course, but leaving the keys in the car, engine running, is easy pickings for an opportunistic passing thief.
Your insurance company is also unlikely to pay out should your car be stolen through such circumstances.

It’s pretty rare though, right?
Last November, during a similar cold snap, the Central Motorway Police Group, part of the team which covers the West Midlands, reported six cars stolen during just 30 minutes after drivers left vehicles unattended, keys in, engines running, as they waited for them to defrost.
The group tweeted: “Seriously!!! That’s 6 cars stolen in last 30 mins just because people have left them unattended to defrost. Come on people, don’t do it!!”

MORE: Winter arrives: Brr-itain wakes up to its first frost of the season

So, what should I do?
The best way is to start the car, get the heaters on and get a can of de-icer. Be careful where you spray, some de-icers can damage the rubber window seals and wipers, long-term.
Then, it’s a case of patient – if chilly – scraping the ice off the windows. Don’t be tempted to pour boiling water on the windscreen – the sudden change from freezing to boiling could crack the screen, especially if you have a little chip in it already.