Ice-missile law launched Wednesday
It took three years, but a 2010 law finally took effect Wednesday that could hit truck and car drivers with big penalties if they don't keep their vehicles clear of snow.
Drivers could be liable for $1,000 fines or more if flying ice and snow cause damage or injuries to others. And motorists who drive around with piles of snow on top of their vehicles can be stopped by police and handed $75 infractions.
The delayed effect of the new law was the result of a legislative compromise, pushing back the effective date in exchange for passage in the waning days of the 2010 General Assembly.
But for House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., whose wife, Barbara, was the victim of a flying sheet of ice during a morning drive to work, the multi-year wait has been worth it.
While the state's trucking industry successfully fought for 20 years against the so-called ice-missile legislation, it is now selling a low-tech solution that allows drivers to reach up and scrape the tops of their big rigs.
Barbara Cafero was driving about 60 mph to her job in Tarrytown, N.Y., a few years back when a truck in front of her hit a bump and sent the ice airborne in a cascade that smashed her windshield. She survived, but the outcome could have been worse, and her husband decided to pursue legislation outlawing ice on vehicles' roofs.
"When I first brought it up, people laughed at it, as though it was a gag," Cafero, R-Norwalk, said during a recent interview, remembering that to get the bill through the House and Senate, the effective date was postponed three and a half years.
"The stuff flies down in a slow-motion nightmare," Cafero said. "Hopefully, if it saves some damage, it's a good thing."
The new law now requires motorists to scrape off snow and ice from hoods, trunks and roofs. Violations will cost $75. Fines range between $200 and $1,000 on operators of noncommercial vehicles if snow or ice flying off their vehicles results in injury or property damage.
For commercial drivers, the penalties range between $500 and $ 1,250. Drivers are not required to clean snow or ice from parked vehicles or if a snow or ice event takes place while the vehicle is being driven.
Michael J. Riley, Capitol lobbyist and president of the Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, said that historically, there wasn't a cost-effective solution to the seasonal problem of snow accumulation, with subsequent melting, refreezing and flying off truck and trailer roofs in chunks in the days after snowstorms.
"I did kill the bill for 20 years based on the fact that there was no way for dealing with it," Riley said recently. "There's no on board technology yet that causes (ice) to melt or pushes it off. There are no facilities you can go to if you're an over-the-road trucker."
Bigger trucking companies in the state have equipment including large-bristle brushes to clear snow and ice from rigs.
But last year, Riley was contacted by Wisconsin trucker Richard Rowe, who developed an easy-to-assemble, segmented extension pole with a crook toward the top that allows drivers to reach up to the tops of their trailers about 15 feet to pull snow down.
Riley said his association has sold about 50 "Rowe Roof Rakes" at $150 each.
Riley said when the bill came up again four years ago, Cafero vowed to do what it took to get it through the House and Senate.
"He said `I'll give you four years, but come up with something,'" Riley recalled Cafero telling him. Since then, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have passed similar bills.
At trade shows, Riley has tried to push trailer manufacturers to come up with industry-wide solutions, but with much of the nation generally free from ice and snow, it was tough.
"They'd tell me, `We respond to the needs of our customers, and our customers are not asking for this,'" Riley said. "But once they start getting tickets in the Northeast and the northern tier states, that will change. There should be something that's part of the technology of the vehicle, so someone stuck in a snowstorm on the side of the road could have something on board that could take care of it."
There's also no commercial incentive to build facilities that regional truckers would use only a few days a year. "No state in the U.S. has built anything, and I doubt they would," Riley said.
"But it's a legitimate issue. People get hurt. People get killed."
Cafero said that like all laws, the new one is only effective if people obey it.
"It all comes down to enforcement," Cafero said.