Shovels Out- It’s the Law!

Photo by Jill Wellington on

Winter time- a time for snowfall and beautiful landscapes, with beautiful sunsets, ice skating and snowmen. However, winter time can be a curse when it comes to blizzards, ice on the roads, and especially accidents. In particular, accidents caused by ice. Some of accidents caused either by black ice or by thick layers of snow and ice- caused by excessive snowfall- are sometimes unavoidable and road-users need to take extra precaution while driving. However, if ice flies off of the car in front of you and hits the windshield, it is considered an accident that is unavoidable and that driver may be held accountable for the damages, let alone pay hefty fines for not using the few precious minutes to take the snow and ice off.

If there is a word of advice when driving in the winter time, it would be this- Shovels out! It’s the law!  Both in the United States as well as in Germany, people are required by law to use the shovel to rid the snow from both the car as well as from the sidewalks and anything that surrounds your property where people walk past it. Renters of apartments and houses may be required per contract with the landlord to contribute to the snow removal. And especially on American streets, car owners who park on heavily-used streets may see their cars towed away if they violate the snow removal ordnances and not park somewhere else.  Here is a list of guidelines you should be aware of when dealing with winter travel in Germany and the United States:

Snow Removal from Sidewalks

In Germany, you are required to remove snow from the sidewalks as soon as the snowfall stops. There are no excuses or other alternatives. There are local laws that you must fulfill as a homeowner, and as a renter of an apartment, there may be clauses in your contract that require you by the landlord to remove snow when necessary. As a general rule, between the hours of 7:00am and 8:00pm on weekdays and beginning at 9:00am on weekends, owners are to remove the snow from the sidewalks and keep the path cleared of not only snow but also ice.  The minimum width of is between 70 and 120 centimeters is expected. Snow piles are usually designated but it is not allowed to unload the shoveled snow onto the streets. Most cases homeowners and landlords may need to have a snow pile on their property. 

It’s not good enough just to keep the sidewalks cleared of snow. Because of the dangers of black ice- a thin layer of ice on the pavement that is invisible- sidewalks also need to be layered with anything that melts the snow instantly. As a norm, sand, gravel and wood chippings will do. Salt is possible but there are concerns involving its acidity on the ground and on the paws of dogs when they walk on the sidewalk. Some communities prohibit the use of salt, like in Stuttgart, for example. What is not allowed for environmental reasons are ash and other defrosting chemicals.

Snow or shine, homeowners are required to shovel and sand the sidewalks after the snow storm- as a rule, 30 minutes after the snowing stops- and all day when the snowing persists. At the same time, they need to clear the roof of their house of snow and icicles if needed. If they are away on vacation or are ill, the responsibility falls to the neighbors or someone they can rely on to do the work. Last option to use is a cleaning firm that specializes in snow removal, but that can come at a price.  Removing snow and ice from the sidewalks and roofs is extremely important to avoid liability issues should a person injure him/herself in a fall because of icy sidewalks and icicles falling from the roof. In case that happens, homeowners may be sued in court and not only pay for damages, but also face fines of up to 500 Euros depending on the community ordinances.

While much of the southern half of the United States, especially Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, New Mexico, Arizona and parts of Texas generally don’t receive snow on a regular basis, most states have a set of snow removal requirements that residents and communities have to fulfill. While some homeowners, like in New Hampshire, Delaware and New Jersey, have snow removed by the communal services at no cost, most states require residents to remove the snow down to the pavement within 24 hours after the snowfall ends and have the sidewalks deiced to avoid accidents. They can be held accountable if they refuse to fulfill the guidelines enforced by state and communal laws. When this happens in most cases, the snow removal service can remove the snow for the owners, but at their financial expense. Fines and litigation are possible for accidents on poorly maintained sidewalks and if snow ends up on the streets.  A guide on snow removal regulations for each state can be found here (Link: )

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Snow Removal from Cars

While some drivers love to drive around with snow on the cars in the winter time, in all reality, that can be extremely dangerous. Imagine you are behind a car that is covered in snow while traveling on a freeway when all of a sudden, the snow- and the ice that is underneath- flies into your car and smashes the windshield!

While the driver in front may not be aware of it at that moment, he/she will if a letter goes into the mail explaining the incident and the subsequent fines and legal action that accompany it a week later, or you receive a visit by the police- with handcuffs and an arrest warrant!

In Germany, you are required by law to remove every square centimeter of snow from the car, from the roof to the hood, trunk to the headlights. Even the license plate and the lighting for it must be cleared of snow and ice. In addition to that, all the windows in the car must be cleared so the driver can see.  If caught with anything snowed or iced on, the driver may face a fine of up to 40 Euros. For frosted windshields, it is 10 Euros, for snow-covered license plates, it is five Euros, and for snow covered cars, it’s 25 Euros. It is not much in comparison with the American laws, but in the event that the driver ignores the rules and causes an accident on the roads, he could lose his license, receive points from Flensburg and face legal action in court. These fines serve as a Denkzettel to the driver that snow on the cars is not tolerated in Germany.

While there are no federal laws regarding snow on the cars in the States, 11 states have their own laws requiring snow removal from cars. In the states of Alaska, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Wisconsin, one can face a fine of up to $1000 and possible legal action in court if driving with snow on the car and/or causing an accident. However it doesn’t mean that in other states, one can get away with it legally. One needs to pay attention to the local ordinances that may be in place and the possible penalties if caught.  In either case, drivers should make sure the car if completely uncovered of all the snow and ice before departing, no matter where they are going.

Snow Removal from Streets

Growing up in Minnesota, we take snow removal regulations on streets for granted. As a general rule, local ordinances require car owners to move their cars off of designated streets to allow for snowplows to remove the snow from the streets. This happens 1-3 hours after the last snow flake has hit the ground; in some communities, it is usually six hours. Failure to do so will result in the car being impounded and the driver getting ticketed for the offense. On major highways, snow removal is no problem as parking ordinances are usually in place on a regular basis, like for example, no parking between the hours of 6:00pm and 6:00am.

In Germany, we have a totally different story and from an American’s point of view, it definitely leaves a lot to be desired. While snow removal is done on all major streets and highways because of no parking areas enforced, on side streets, snow removal is generally done by the residents unless communities have their own snow plows in the form of a Multi-Car and snow policies. As a rule, you are responsible for shoveling the snow on your side of the street for a certain stretch of property to allow for cars to pass. You are also responsible for shoveling out your own car. It is the same as when you shovel and ice the sidewalk.

Both countries share one common rule when it comes to snow plows on major highways and freeways: It is unlawful to pass the snow plows that are shoveling the snow off. You must stay behind them for the entire duration of the travel.

As a quick memo: Red rings with a blue background and one slash means no parking and a three-minute stopping limit on German streets. With a red X, it means no parking or stopping. Violators can expect to be fined and possibly have their cars impounded.


What else can you expect from snow removal?

Winter tires and snow chains-

In both Germany as well as in the US, there are laws that require you to drive with either winter tires or with snow chains, pending on which region you are living. In Germany, having summer and winter tires is the norm as with changing them in April (for the summer tires) and October (for the winter tires). Driving with the wrong tires can result in a fine of 60 Euros and one penalty point from Flensburg. For causing an accident, the fine is doubled. Chains are required in the mountain areas, including the Alps, Ore Mountains and also in the forested areas in Thuringia, Hesse, Bavaria and Baden Württemberg. As a general rule, if you are on a street you have a tire chain sign, have the tire chains ready to put on. If caught without them, a fine of 40 Euros and a penalty point is enforced.  While the US has no federal laws on winter tires and chains, some states, like Colorado, California and Utah have requirements for winter tires and tire chains in the mountain areas. Drivers caught with either the wrong tires or no chains can face fines and other penalties.


Warming up the car-

While Americans prefer warming up the car as the quickest way to deice it, it is considered illegal in Germany. One can face an 80 Euro fine for the offense. Leaving the car running is not only a waste of gas and causes air pollution, it can lead to car theft if left running for a long period of time.


Speeding in the Winter-

While it is taken for granted that we drive more slowly when roads are covered in ice and snow, Germans are obsessed with hot cars and speeding. If caught going over the speed limit, depending on how much, you can get a point from Flensburg and possibly face a driving ban of 1-3 months if caught for driving under unfavorable winter conditions.

Photo by Nikolai Lapshin on


While winter time means making snowmen and snow angels, singing Christmas carols, enjoying walks and having the best photography, it also means fulfilling obligations as far as safety on the roads and sidewalks. It is important to have the shovels and other snow removal items ready for use, for in the event of a winter storm, they are a life-saver. If one follows the rules, then winter time can be a wonderful experience.


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