By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
hochman@montclairlocal.news

When the police say to clear your car of snow before taking it to the road, they’re not messing around.

Montclair cited drivers 74 times between 2016 and 2020 for failing to remove snow from their cars, according to New Jersey court records. Over the same time, 65 citations led to convictions.

And that’s no throwaway-money ticket. Under New Jersey law, a driver who doesn’t remove snow from a car faces a fine of $25 to $75 for each offense. If flying ice or snow causes property damage, the fines jump all the way up to $200 to $1,000.

Montclair saw the most tickets of the 2016-2020 period in 2019 — 31 citations and 24 convictions. But 2017 wasn’t far behind, at 25 citations and 21 convictions. 

It’s not like Montclair is alone in handing out tickets. In the same 2016-2020 period, municipalities in Essex County handed out 558 tickets and saw 316 convictions. Statewide, there were 2,905 tickets and 2,221 convictions.

It’s also illegal in New Jersey to let your vehicle idle for more than three minutes — with just a few exceptions. A vehicle can idle for up to 15 minutes if it’s been stopped for at least three hours and the temperature outside is below 25 degrees.

Again, the penalties can add up: $250 for a first offense, $500 on a second offence, and $1,000 on any offenses after that. 

In other words: Warm up your car in your driveway or on the street, and it could cost you big bucks (the law doesn’t apply to buses discharging or picking up passengers, or to anyone just caught in traffic).

The state Department of Environmental Protection says that every year hundreds of New Jerseyans die prematurely because of exposure to diesel exhaust, and it generally causes an unnecessary release of contaminants into the air. And it says in most cases, with modern engines, warming up a car won’t help a car drive any better. 

“Fine particle pollution may actually cause more deaths in NJ than homicides and car accidents combined,” the DEP says in its “Idling Fact Sheet.”

But either Montclair residents have largely abided by the law, or Montclair police haven’t pushed the point — issuing just one citation in 2020 and two in 2016 (with one conviction that year). Countywide, expect a more aggressive response: There were 263 citations over those five years (mostly in 2019 and 2020, and mostly in Newark) and 36 convictions. Statewide in that time, police issued 1,764 citations, with 443 convictions.

Montclair police haven’t yet returned a message left Monday seeking information about any citations made during the area’s most recent snowstorms.