Bill would create fines for not using headlights during the daytime

Posted Feb. 24, 2011, at 12:58 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 24, 2011, at 4:55 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Motor vehicle accidents and deaths could be avoided by requiring Maine drivers to have their headlights on during the day, a legislative panel was told Thursday.

A bill before the Transportation Committee would impose a $25 fine for failing to turn on headlights during the daytime hours. It would apply to people driving vehicles made after 2010 and only could be enforced when a vehicle is stopped for another violation. The measure wouldn’t apply to hybrids.

The sponsor, Rep. Jane Knapp, R-Gorham, drew a distinction between running lights that come on automatically on some vehicles and headlights, saying the latter are more readily seen on highways.

Knapp introduced the bill at the request of Gorham constituents Phyllis and David Kent, who were prompted by a fatality in central Maine they said could have been avoided with headlight use.

“All of the dark colors [of vehicles] blend in with the highway,” Phyllis Kent told the committee. After her request was publicized by a Maine TV station, Kent said she received phone calls from across the state.

“All the callers expressed their hope that this bill will pass because of safety for everyone,” she said.

Maine law already requires headlights during rain and at night. Knapp said daytime running lights are required in Canada and some European countries.

North Dakota considered a bill requiring daytime headlight use in 2009. An opponent called it an employment act for service stations, predicting it would lead to lots of dead car batteries. The bill went down in defeat.

The Maine bill was opposed Thursday by the Maine Motorcycle Political Action Committee, which says the law should continue to apply only to bikers, who need an extra margin of protection on the highway. Motorcyclists have been required since the 1970s to use their headlights at all hours.

A bill drawing even stronger opposition Thursday, also sponsored by Knapp, would require that vehicles traveling in excess of 40 mph be clear of ice or frozen snow. The bill authorizes $250 fines for a first offense and $500 for a second or subsequent offense.

Knapp said similar laws exist in at least four other states, including neighboring New Hampshire, where a young girl’s death was caused by frozen debris flying from another vehicle. Some states have the requirement in effect only on high-speed highways.

While commending the intent, committee members and others questioned the practicality of the law.

“This is so nebulous,” said Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, adding it would place “a tremendous burden” on driv-ers.

That’s especially true for tractor-trailer operators, said Lt. Brian Scott of the state police. A rig driver passing through the state after a storm would be forced to stop driving with no way to remove snow or ice from the top of the trailer, he said.

“The issue has been deliberated in this Legislature previously,” said Tim Doyle of the Maine Motor Transport As-sociation. He said removing snow and ice from big trucks “is not easy, is not safe and sometimes not even possible.”

Knapp encouraged the committee to make changes in the bill to make it more practical, saying “one death is too many.”

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