For years Pennsylvania has been lagging behind other northeastern states in one important part of winter highway safety — getting truckers and other motorists to clear snow and ice off their vehicles, to reduce the chance of chunks coming loose and endangering others on the road.
It’s been 13 years since a Palmer Township woman, Christine Lambert, was killed when a 10-inch chunk of ice flew off a garbage truck and struck the vehicle she was driving. That was Christmas Day 2005. Many other drivers and passengers have experienced the dangers and white-knuckle fear of ice blocks launched from vehicles.
On Tuesday, Robert Kent, 65, was injured when the car in which he was riding on Interstate 80 in Monroe County was hit with ice from a passing tractor trailer, crashing through the windshield. The driver wasn’t injured, and managed to drive to a nearby gas station. Kent was taken to Pocono Medical Center for treatment. State police said they were to not able to track down the tractor trailer or the driver involved in the incident.
Last week state Sen. Lisa Boscola, D-Northampton/Lehigh, said she intends to reintroduce legislation to require drivers to remove snow and ice from their vehicles in a timely fashion. Drivers would have up to 24 hours after a snowstorm ends to clear off their vehicles. After that, those on the road with caked-on layers of ice or snow could be pulled over by police and cited, with fines of up to $75.
The current law is toothless. Drivers can be fined if snow or ice breaks free and poses a traffic hazard, but only if it causes death or serious injury. That after-the-fact liability provides little deterrence.
Other northeastern states have empowered police to act to prevent these types of accidents. Since 2010 police in New Jersey have been handing out tickets ranging from $25 to $75 for failing to clean vehicles — $200 to $1,000 if flying snow or ice causes an injury or property damage.
In her support for “Christine’s Law,” Boscola has been joined by State Sen. Daniel Laughlin, R-Erie, a co-sponsor. Laughlin said he has encountered enough near-misses with flying snow and ice on his commutes to Harrisburg to know the law must be tougher.
Last year the state Senate passed Boscola’s bill and sent it to the House, where it died in the Transportation Committee.
The primary target of the legislation is large vehicles — tractor trailers, especially, which pose the most danger with accumulated snow and ice. Boscola said she has been working with the trucking industry to try to reach a sensible approach. Over the last 13 years some companies have succeeded in making it easier to remove ice and snow from 13-foot-high trailers, which itself can pose dangers to truck drivers in hazardous weather and traffic conditions.
“This isn’t about hassling truckers,” Boscola said. “It’s about raising awareness and preventing tragedies.”
Pennsylvania drivers face enough highway hazards in good weather. It’s time for the trucking industry, the Senate and the House to come to the table and put Christine’s Law on the books.