If you drove to work this morning in fear that a sheet of snow or ice might slide off the roof of the car in front of you and obstruct your view of the road or, worse, smash your windshield, you’re not crazy. Accidents can and do happen as a result of that, and several states have enacted legislation to try to force drivers to clean off the snow before they get on the road. Maryland isn’t one of them.
In 2016, Sen. Thomas M. “Mac” Middleton of Southern Maryland proposed a law that would have created a system of small fines for drivers of non-commercial and commercial vehicles who fail to clear the snow from their cars. He had the support of the state’s property and casualty insurers, who saw it as a safety measure. AAA supported it, and so did the state’s commercial truckers, though the latter group made several points that called into question just how effective the law would be.
Maryland Motor Truck Administration President Louis Campion testified that it is next to impossible for drivers of big rigs to safely remove snow and particularly ice from the tops of trailers, and in some cases — like when picking up a container at the Port of Baltimore — safety rules actually prohibit them from getting out of their trucks. His association supported the bill but only with an amendment specifying that a commercial driver could be cited only if snow actually fell off and caused an accident or injury. As he testified in the Senate committee hearing, lawmakers started asking questions about how we could expect drivers of big SUVs or minivans to clear off their roofs, and the legislation wound up going nowhere. It didn’t get a vote in the Senate committee, and a companion bill in the House got an unfavorable report.
Other states have managed to work this out. Pennsylvania has had a penalty on the books for failure to remove snow or ice that causes an accident since 2006, a year after a 51-year-old Pennsylvania woman named Christine Lambert was killed on Christmas Day after ice from a tractor trailer smashed into her SUV. Connecticut; New Jersey; Washington, D.C.; Massachusetts and Alaska have similar laws.
Even if simply passing a law in Maryland wouldn’t solve the problem, it would have two benefits. First, there’s a normative effect to such a statute. We all knew from the dawn of texting that it was probably unsafe to do while driving, but it took actually making it illegal to got a lot of people to stop doing it. The same is true of snow on cars. We know it’s dangerous, but many of us may need a little extra push to do something about it. Second, the more states enact laws like these, the more resources will be devoted to helping commercial truckers deal with the situation. Truck stops often don’t have equipment to clear snow and ice from the roofs of cars, but if more states enact such laws, they probably will.