Pennsylvania nears snow and ice removal revision

April 23, 2021

Keith Goble

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An annual pursuit in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to address concerns about snow and ice removal from atop cars and trucks has taken a big step toward passage.

State law allows police to ticket car and truck drivers between $200 and $1,000 if snow or ice falls from a vehicle and causes serious injury or death.

In 2019 there were eight citation filings in Pennsylvania district courts that resulted in six convictions, according to a fiscal note. The convictions resulted in an average fine of $220.

The Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday, April 21, to advance legislation that would revise the state’s rule on the removal of wintry precipitation.

Specifically, SB114 would authorize law enforcement to issue tickets solely for failure to clear vehicles of snow and ice – rather than only in cases when the snow or ice falls from a vehicle. In addition to trucks, mass transit vehicles, buses, and school buses would be covered by the rule.

Lengthy pursuit

Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton, is again behind the pursuit to be proactive on the removal of snow and ice from vehicles.

She has called for a rule change since a 2005 incident that killed Christine Lambert of Palmer Township, Penn. Lambert was killed as a result of a piece of ice that dislodged from a box truck and crashed through her vehicle’s windshield.

For years, Boscola has pursued the change at the statehouse. She says her bill is about safety and responsibility.

“Hopefully, Christine’s Law will increase public awareness and make people more vigilant about clearing snow and ice from their vehicles,” Boscola said in previous remarks.

Change through the years

Boscola has had a rough-go through the years gaining support for her pursuit from legislators and the trucking industry.

In hopes of getting a deal done she has made changes to her legislation that are intended to accommodate large trucks.

One change would limit enforcement to highways.

Drivers would be required to make “reasonable efforts” to remove snow or ice from all parts of their vehicles within 24 hours of a weather event.

Offenders would face a maximum fine of $1,500 if the wintry precipitation causes serious injury or death. The bill includes an additional protection allowing police to ticket drivers $50 for failure to clear snow or ice before they take to the roads.

“Our law enforcement officers should be empowered to step in and stop a vehicle with a dangerous amount of snow or ice before the unthinkable happens,” Boscola said this week on the Senate floor.

Truck operators would be excused if they are on their way to a facility to remove accumulated snow or ice. In addition, violations would not be issued if compliance would cause the trucker to violate any federal or state law or regulation regarding workplace safety, or if it would be a health or safety threat.

SB114 has moved to the House for further consideration. The House version of the legislation was introduced in March. HB974 is in the House Transportation Committee.

‘Far from a great bill’

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has concerns about rules that allow police to pull over drivers whose vehicles were not cleared of snow or ice. They point out that facilities are not readily available to accommodate clearance mandates on trucks. Another problem is the practicality of rules that appear to require people to climb atop large vehicles, and do so in less-than desirable conditions.

“The accumulation of snow and ice on any vehicle has the potential to negatively impact highway safety,” OOIDA Manager of Government Affairs Mike Matousek has said. “However, when it comes to commercial motor vehicles, there’s really no practical or safe way of removing it from the top of a trailer, especially during winter weather conditions.”

Speaking specifically about SB114, Matousek has said “it’s far from a great bill,” but the legislation does “appear to address some of the safety issues that OOIDA and others have raised through the years.” LL

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Keith Goble has been covering trucking-related laws since 2000. His daily web reports, radio news and “OOIDA’s State Watch” in Land Line Magazine are the industry’s premier sources for information regarding state legislative affairs.