February 21, 2011

Bill would force drivers to clear
snow off cars

Flying sheets of snow and chunks of ice are 'a safety issue,' says Gorham lawmaker Jane Knapp.

By Tux Turkel tturkel@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Failing to clean snow and ice from your car or truck could lead to a brush with the law, if a bill set for a hearing Thursday in Augusta gains traction.

DOWNLOAD the full text of the bill at www.mainelegislature.org

A proposal from Rep. Jane Knapp, R-Gorham, would let police fine motorists who drive on the highway without making "a reasonable effort" to completely remove "solid precipitation." It goes before the Legislature's Transportation Committee on Thursday at 1 p.m.

Knapp's bill, L.D. 283, is modeled after laws in other states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

These measures are aimed at motorists who scrape a small hole on the windshield and hit the road, peering out of frosty portals. State police in New Jersey call them "tank commanders." The other goal is to keep sheets of ice and snow from flying off at high speeds and hitting other vehicles.

"It's basically a safety issue," Knapp said.

A retired high school teacher, Knapp said she often dodged frozen chunks while driving to school after a storm. The risk has increased since she began serving in the Legislature and commuting to Augusta at higher speeds on the interstate.

But the outlook for Knapp's bill is unclear. Legislating common sense is controversial, and the focus at the State House these days is trimming regulations, not enacting new ones.

The co-chair of the transportation committee, Sen. Ronald Collins, R-Wells, introduced a bill last month to weaken a law that allows police to stop and ticket motorists who aren't wearing a seat belt. Buckling up should be a matter of personal choice, he said.

Knapp has been trying in recent days to line up support for the public hearing. She said she's getting feedback on both sides of the issue.

Some people tell stories of accidents or close calls attributed to snow-covered cars and trucks. A teacher headed to a conference in Rockland, for instance, had just enough time to cover her face before ice smashed the windshield of the car in which she was riding.

Other people, Knapp said, have a different message: "They say, 'Get out of my life.' "

Knapp's bill would make the infraction subject to a fine of at least $250 for a first offense and $500 for subsequent violations. Drivers wouldn't be summonsed for "minor amounts" that blow from their vehicles, if "a reasonable effort has been made to completely remove the load."

Knapp's proposal doesn't distinguish between cars and trucks, but plumes off powder-topped tractor-trailers are a familiar winter hazard.

In some states, truck terminals have snow-removal stations, but trucking groups say there's no way for drivers to use them on distant routes. Trucks may need more time or evolving technology to comply with the proposed law, Knapp said.

If Knapp's bill does move ahead, it will complement an existing law that allows officers to stop drivers in vehicles with obstructed views, according to Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association.

"If you're driving down the street, looking through a little peephole, an officer can summons you for an obstructed view," Schwartz said.

A former chief in South Portland, Schwartz said his group is likely to support Knapp's bill. He rejected the argument that enforcing such a law would infringe on the personal freedom of drivers.

"I have the personal freedom to drive down the street without you hitting me," he said. "If you hit me because you can't see, where is my personal freedom?"

Staff Writer Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or at:

tturkel@pressherald.com

 

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