Lawmakers hit the brakes on requiring snow and ice removal from cars and trucks
Mar. 10—A legislative committee has derailed a proposal to require all car and truck drivers to clear their vehicles of snow and ice within 48 hours of a storm, angering some people who have been in serious accidents from the falling debris.
The Transportation Committee voted 11-0 Thursday in favor of an amended version that exempts commercial trucks entirely and would only fine drivers of passenger vehicles if snow or ice causes damage to another car.
The bill had gained key support from the Maine State Police but the trucking industry said it would be too costly to implement and pushed lawmakers to scale back the bill.
Now, drivers of vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds could be fined $50 if snow or ice falls off their car and causes a crash or injury on the first offense. They risk fines of $150 to $250 for any later offenses.
"We may have not got a touchdown, but we moved the ball up the field a bit to make it safer for all the motorists and Mainers," said Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, who introduced the bill and the latest amendment. "It's kind of an incremental step process. It's not perfect."
White's original legislation would have applied to all drivers and allowed police to impose fines of $150 to $500 on drivers who do not clear their vehicles within 48 hours of a storm.
It was after hearing that it's difficult for truckers and smaller companies to afford the equipment needed to clear large vehicles, White said, that he decided to scale back his bill.
But several of the Mainers who testified in support of the bill last week said it was snow falling from 18-wheelers that shattered their windshields and endangered their lives.
Lisa Evans, who lives in White's district and urged him to sponsor the bill, told lawmakers that she and her husband were driving on Interstate 295 in Portland when a 4-inch slab of ice flew off a Mack truck in front of them, "imploding our entire front windshield."
A police officer later told Evans that she was lucky to be alive. The truck driver never stopped.
"It's disappointing to me, the way things have turned out," Evans said in a phone interview Friday. "We could've died, our car was totaled. I'm kind of at a loss. It's a moot law now."
Angela Wheeler, who lives in the midcoast area, told The Portland Press Herald in February that she was driving on Route 196 with her four children when a large sheet of ice flew off an 18-wheeler and smashed into her hood and windshield, sending her careening into a snow bank and leaving her and her 14-year-old son covered in tiny shards of glass.
This is the first time that Maine's Department of Public Safety has supported a bill creating penalties for uncleared cars. Lt. Bruce Scott, who leads Maine State Police's traffic division, said during a public hearing for L.D. 522 last week that he thought the 48-hour change was more enforceable than what previous bills have called for.
Tim Doyle, vice president of the Maine Motor Transport Association, told lawmakers last week that the bill would be hard to enforce on 18-wheelers. Climbing on top of a truck can endanger employees and not all trucking companies can afford the equipment or storage options that larger companies use to clear and prevent snow from accumulating on their trucks and trailers.
"There is no easy solution," Doyle said. "Clearing the snow and ice from passenger vehicles is relatively easy and safe to accomplish. Clearing the snow and ice from commercial trucks, however, is not easy, safe and sometimes not even possible."
White said Friday that he has spent a lot of time crafting legislation that will appeal to as many parties as possible to ensure its success. Similar bills have been shot down because they didn't involve everyone's input, he said.
He hopes the effort to enforce clear cars on the highway will progress in a similar way to Maine's "hands-free law," which began as a ban on texting and now prohibits anyone from holding a phone while driving.
Lawmakers are considering steeper fines for distracted driving.
"It's kind of an incremental step process," White said. "It's not perfect, but I was very happy that I worked with my colleagues on both sides to get that vote."