When cars and parking meters are covered in several feet of snow, it’s tempting to think that parking officials will forego enforcement and give drivers a pass. After all, it can be a trial to climb over snowdrifts to feed a meter that may get quickly covered in snow, making it difficult for ticketing officials to know whether or not the driver has paid.
And, in cases where curbside pay stations require motorists to place receipts on their dashboards, falling snow may cover windshields, blocking views of the dashboards. Will enforcement officials take the time to brush the snow off to check?
“Some of them will; some won’t,” police sergeant Nick Kleist of Syracuse, NY, told the press earlier this month, admitting that drivers’ chances of avoiding a ticket may rise in snowy weather. That’s because many will be more concerned about safety violations such as cars parking on the wrong side of the street, too close to an intersection, or in front of a fire hydrant than with meter-related citations.
In some cases, though, such as when cities declare snow emergencies, the weather can be what causes the citation to be issued. In Royal Oak, MI, for example, 2,500 parking tickets were handed out when drivers left their cars on the streets during a recent snowstorm, ignoring the ban on street parking in snow emergencies.
“The people who leave their cars in the street, it ends up either their streets either don’t get plowed or get plowed in a way that makes the streets somewhat impassable,” said police chief Cory O’Donahue. “So everyone who does follow the ordinance and makes that effort—some of them really appreciate that we are actually enforcing it and hopefully change some behaviors.”
Those without driveways, where cars might be relocated during snow emergencies, can apply for an exemption to the ban, he offered.
Unknown rules like the one cited by O’Donahue can irritate motorists who make the effort to follow regulations. In Chicago, for instance, drivers are likely to have tickets waived if they can’t reach parking meters because the city is responsible for ensuring that paths to the meters are cleared. If they aren’t, then “we shouldn’t have to do it,” said motorist Meredith Hwang. “It’s absurd. Ridiculous.”
But Chicago Parking Meters, Inc., which leases the meters from the city and can lose revenue during snowstorms, rejected that idea. Drivers can call a help line if they’re unable to reach the meters, the company wrote in an email. It did not explain how motorists would access the number, which is listed on the meters, in such a situation.
There’s no common approach to ticketing, then, taken by jurisdictions nationwide during snowy weather. Drivers are advised to research the regulations in effect in their area and to hope for decisions that favor them, such as in St. Louis, where drivers enjoyed a reprieve from enforcement officials for a few days when the city, which requires the official declaration of a snow emergency before it will ticket cars on snow routes, failed to declare an emergency, despite a snowfall of 12 inches.
“They declared one in the 80s with the big, two-foot storm, but it was quite a debacle to move all those cars, and it didn’t really work,” said St. Louis city streets director Todd Waelterman.