In the span of only a few hours the New Jersey Legislature overwhelmingly backed a push to get tough with drivers who fail to clear snow and ice off their vehicles. The rule would apply to commercial and noncommercial vehicles.
The action at the statehouse angered the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and countless truck drivers who have long opposed what they say is legislation that sets truckers up to fail.
Disregarding all negative sentiment about the bill, Assembly lawmakers voted unanimously to approve the bill that would permit police to pull over drivers whose vehicles were not cleared of snow and ice. Shortly thereafter the Senate signed off on changes to the bill on a 35-0 vote. The sweeping approval cleared the way for the bill – S520 – to advance to Gov. Jon Corzine’s desk for his signature.
State law now prohibits car and truck drivers from being fined for driving a snowcapped vehicle. However, if a piece of ice falls from a vehicle and causes injury or property damage, car drivers face fines between $200 and $1,000, while truck drivers could be fined $500 to $1,500.
The bill would make drivers responsible for making “all reasonable efforts to remove accumulated ice or snow” from the hood, trunk and roof of the motor vehicle, truck cab, trailer or intermodal freight container.
Violators would face fines between $25 and $75. No points would be assessed against the driver’s license.
OOIDA says the rule would be nearly impossible to comply with. The Association also cites concerns about requiring people to climb atop large vehicles to remove snow or ice.
Joe Rajkovacz, OOIDA’s regulatory affairs specialist, said the bill sets drivers up to fail.
“This is the type of law where drivers are screwed into failure with the only benefit being some local ‘Barney Fife’ writing them a ticket and stealing their hard earned money,” Rajkovacz told Land Line.
Drivers would not be liable for snow or ice that accumulates on a vehicle while out on the road if they are traveling to a location with snow and ice removal equipment or technology, provided they have not already passed such a location prior to being stopped.
Advocates for the restriction say they don’t want to substitute one dangerous practice for another by requiring drivers to pull to the side of the road during a storm solely to clean their vehicles.
The bill also specifies that drivers would not be liable for snow or ice accumulated while the vehicle, trailer, or container is not in their possession.
“How is a cop going to tell the difference between something accumulating while it’s out in operation versus sitting?” questioned Rajkovacz. “I understand the roof will pile up if it’s sitting. But that doesn’t mean snow and ice can’t accumulate on the roof going down the road. This is bizarre. The cop still gets to decide when the snow accumulated.”
In hopes of appeasing the trucking industry, the bill would delay the effective date for one year. The grace period is intended to give truck operations time to comply with the rule. Revenue from fines would be routed into a special fund for uses that include establishing a grant program to provide incentives to encourage private companies to install snow and ice removal facilities around the state.
Owner-operator and OOIDA Life Member David Sweetman said he understands the concern about snow and ice falling from atop vehicles, but the bill doesn’t provide workable solutions.
“Unless there are built, established and mandated stations where you can drive a truck and trailer through that is going to get the snow and ice off the roof of your trailer I don’t know how most over-the-road guys are going to be able to do that,” Sweetman, who has a New Jersey baseplate, told Land Line.
Rajkovacz said truckers won’t be holding their breath waiting to see whether private companies will line up to install the necessary equipment.
“Nobody is going to do it. I don’t see anybody in the private sector investing in anything to assist truckers,” he said.
Removed from the bill in the Assembly was a provision requiring the state to build snow removal facilities for trucks at state-run weigh stations. Instead, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority would be responsible for adding facilities at locations along the roadways.
Sweetman wasn’t backing off his disdain for the bill. He said if lawmakers approve it, many truckers will avoid the state.
“Personally, I think a lot of guys are just not going to go to New Jersey anymore. This is one more brick in the wall,” he said.
To view other legislative activities of interest for New Jersey in 2009, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
Editor’s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the legislation included in this story. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.