The Department of Public Safety estimates that about 30 crashes since November were the result of snow or ice falling off one vehicle and landing on another, according to a spokesperson.
Past proposals to outlaw driving with snow- or ice-covered vehicles have failed in recent years, largely because of concerns about their potential impact on commercial trucks and ambiguous language that police said would make it difficult to enforce.
But Rep. Bruce White, D-Waterville, is sponsoring a bipartisan bill this session that would allow police to impose fines of $150 to $500 on drivers who do not clear their vehicles within 48 hours of a storm, a grace period that was not included in previous versions. A public hearing on L.D. 522 will be held Tuesday.
If passed, Maine would be only the third state to explicitly outlaw driving with snow on a vehicle, according to Car and Driver magazine.
New Hampshire enacted “Jessica’s Law” in 2001 after Jessica Smith was killed in a multi-vehicle crash caused by flying ice, with fines ranging from $250 to $1,000.
And Pennsylvania recently enacted “Christine’s Law,” which sets a fine of $50 for driving a snow-covered car and as much as $1,500 if the snow or ice flies off and injures someone. That law gives people 24 hours from the storm’s end to clear it, according to the National Law Review.
Maine law already requires drivers to clear snow from their windshields and at least the driver’s side and passenger’s side windows. A separate law prohibits driving with an “unsecured load,” but it does not mention snow and ice. It says only that a load includes “but is not limited to, firewood, pulpwood, logs, bolts or other material, but does not include loose hay, pea vines, straw, grain or cornstalks.”
Most auto insurance policies cover damage caused by ice and snow, although individual plans vary. New Hampshire’s law means the driver of a vehicle with an ice-covered roof also would have liability coverage to pay for damage to another person’s vehicle in that state, according to New England Risk Management, which serves New Hampshire and Maine.
The Maine State Police has raised concerns about being able to enforce past proposals. The agency also argues in social media posts that the existing law already requires snow and ice removal.
Shannon Moss, spokesperson for the Department of Public Safety, said the department would not take a position on the new bill before the public hearing or work session “out of respect for the legislative process.”
Moss said law enforcement doesn’t specifically keep track of crashes from snow or ice falling from one vehicle onto another, but they do track reportable crashes involving objects that fall from vehicles or are thrown at vehicles. The traffic unit says 93 of these crashes occurred from Nov. 1 through Feb. 23, with about 30 likely caused by snow or ice falling from one vehicle onto another.
Previous efforts to enact a law specific to snow and ice have drawn opposition from trade groups representing commercial truckers, such as the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine and the Maine Motor Transport Association. Those associations, as well as the Maine State Police, argued that it would be dangerous to force truckers to pull over during a storm to clear their vehicles of snow.
While some trucking companies have specialized equipment to remove snow from a tractor-trailer trucks, Dana Doran, executive director of the logging association, said in testimony last year that any effort to clear snow manually could violate safety regulations established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.