We get it: cleaning off the car during the winter months can be cold, uncomfortable business. Anyone who drives — including us — has likely rushed through the windshield scraping or failed to get all the snow off our roofs at some point.
But there are periodic reminders that the snow and ice left on cars can quickly turn into frozen projectiles speeding toward other vehicles. Recently in the Cumberland County town of Baldwin, for example, ice flew off the roof of a car and smashed the windshield of a school bus on its way to pick up students.
In Maine, it’s illegal to “operate a vehicle with a sign, poster, opaque or semitransparent material or substance on the front windshield, side wing or side or rear window that obstructs the operator’s clear view of the way or an intersecting way.” That means snow and ice must be removed from the windshield and windows, but there’s nothing requiring these potential roadway dangers to be cleared from the rest of the vehicle.
New Hampshire’s law was passed nearly 20 years ago after a young woman, Jessica Smith, was killed in an accident caused by snow falling from a tractor trailer. Motorists who fail to clean off their vehicles are subject to fines.
It shouldn’t take a law for driver’s in Maine to respect the safety of others, and take those few extra minutes to clean their car off — even the sometimes hard to reach roof. And we understand that adding such a law could feel like a move toward a nanny state.
Looking at our New Hampshire neighbors, however, we have to wonder: if the “Live Free or Die” state is willing and able to make this a requirement in the name of public safety, why shouldn’t Maine do the same?
Last year, Republican Sen. David Woodsome of Waterboro introduced a bill that would have required some vehicles to be cleared of snow and ice before being driven on public roadways.
“The premise of this bill is simple: when people do not properly clear their car, they pose a risk to others,” Woodsome said in his written testimony last spring, and it’s hard to disagree.
The bill ultimately was voted ought not to pass by the Committee on Transportation. Lt. Bruce Scott of the Maine Department of Public Safety testified neither for nor against the bill, but highlighted some potential concerns with the proposal.
Scott said the department understood “the goal of this bill and have seen first-hand the devastation caused by snow and ice falling off from vehicles and smashing into other vehicles,” but thought it would be difficult to enforce.
“Also, this bill would exempt commercial vehicles from this requirement, yet they pose the most danger and cause the greatest damage to other vehicles when the load falls off,” Scott added. “We can certainly understand the challenges for commercial vehicle operators to be able to safely clear the snow and ice off from their vehicles while away from their terminals or home residences, the same argument can and will be made for non-commercial vehicles.”
Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat from Windham who chairs the Transportation Committee, told the BDN that legislators have wrestled with the specifics of trying to create and enforce this type of law in a practical way. He cited complicating factors such as the difficulty of determining where and how much snow and ice must be removed from vehicles, how to enforce such a law during a storm when new precipitation may accumulate on vehicles while on the road, and how to apply restrictions to large trucks that travel long distances and may have to make repeated stops to clean off snow and ice under such a law.
“But it’s a serious problem,” Diamond added about the issue in general.
Legislating this issue may have its complexities, but the best and most immediate solution is a simple one: everyone should take a few minutes to clear off their vehicles, regardless of whether the law requires it. That’s the responsible thing to do.