For the eighth time in the last 14 years, state Sen. Lisa Boscola has introduced a bill that would require drivers to clear snow and ice off their vehicles or risk a fine. The only question at this point is if it can break through the gridlock that killed previous versions.
Boscola’s Senate Bill 114 is more or less the same piece of legislation she’s introduced every session since 2005. It would allow police to pull over drivers who fail to brush snow and ice off their vehicles and write them a ticket of up to $75 if authorities believe they pose a hazard. Right now, it’s illegal for motorists to drive with snow on their windows, but there is no punishment for doing so.
State law only applies now if snow or ice flies off a vehicle and causes serious injury or death. Boscola’s bill would raise a potential fine for that from a maximum of $1,000 to $1,500.
Pennsylvanians have lobbied lawmakers for stronger snow removal laws for more than a decade, particularly here in the Lehigh Valley. Christine Lambert of Palmer Township was killed Christmas Day 2005 on Route 209 near Jim Thorpe when ice flew off a truck and crashed through her windshield. Her husband, Franklin, and son, Matthew, were hurt in the accident and have testified before lawmakers, demanding more stringent laws.
Boscola, D-Northampton, has framed her bill as a commonsense response to a serious danger. There have been two accidents this winter in the region where ice soared off a tractor-trailer and smashed through a driver’s windshield.
“I don’t want to be punitive. If you see the fines, they’re not that bad,” she said.
New Jersey and Connecticut have similar laws, with fines of up to $75. State senators in New York have proposed similar measures with steeper fines.
After years of watching her bills get sidelined, Boscola added language that she hopes will push her legislation out of the statehouse and into the law books.
The original bill required drivers to clear off their vehicles immediately, which presented problems for truckers. Lobbyists for the freight industry argued it was too dangerous for truckers to climb 13½ feet in icy condition to clear snow and ice off their rigs.
“Snow and ice removal is nearly impossible, particularly when trucks are in route or waiting to be loaded or unloaded after a recent snow or icing event because there might not be equipment available to get rid of the build up,” Jim Runk, then-president of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association, said in a statement provided to the Senate Transportation Committee in 2016.
As a concession, Boscola amended the bill to give drivers 24 hours to clear snow and ice, giving truckers time to get to a facility where their vehicles would be cleaned off. The bill also made clear that drivers would not have to violate worker safety laws to be in compliance. Lastly, truckers heading to a snow removal facility could not be fined by police under the rewritten bill.
PMTA President Kevin Stewart said his association stopped opposing the bill once the changes were made last year. Coincidentally, the bill passed through the Senate for the first time with a 49-0 vote.
“I would hope to think that’s why the bill wasn’t acted on previously, but I can’t speak for legislators,” Stewart said.
As another safety measure and accommodation for truckers, Boscola is looking for funding to add snow removal equipment on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other locations. Some businesses, including FedEx Ground and the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of the Lehigh Valley, have built or bought special equipment to clear snow off trailers. The most common ones resemble gates with a rubber blade at the top. When trucks drive through, the blade scrapes snow off the top.
Despite that Senate success, the bill still languished in the House Transportation Committee. Boscola attributed the bill’s most recent death to a lack of time, but she and Sen. Daniel Coughlin, an Erie County Republican co-sponsoring the bill, are hoping for better results this time.
“I’m starting to make these contacts already,” Boscola said. “I’m really, really hopeful this will be the session where this gets passed into law.”
Rep. Michael Schlossberg, the only member of the Lehigh Valley’s statehouse delegation on the House Transportation Committee last year, said he was unsure why the bill never went anywhere.
“If she were to reach out, I would be willing to [advocate for it],” he said.