In this March 8, 2018, file photo, Portlanders dig their cars out of the snow in a lot on Park Avenue after an overnight parking ban. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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For years, state lawmakers have considered but failed to act on legislation to require Mainers to clear snow and ice off their cars. It is time to stop shoveling this issue down the road and follow the lead of other states like New Hampshire.

Our “Live free or die” neighbors have managed to balance personal freedom with public safety for more than 20 years by requiring their motorists to clean off their vehicles. Those who don’t, including commercial vehicle operators, are subject to fines. So despite protestations from various industries, it is clearly possible to take this public safety step without grinding commerce to a halt. People being killed or injured by snow and ice flying off trucks does not need to be a cost of doing business.

Tragically, it took such a death to pass this law in New Hampshire. A young woman named Jessica Smith was killed in 1999 when ice fell from a tractor trailer and caused a crash.

“It takes not even five minutes to clean off your car,” Lisa Smith, Jessica’s mother, told a New Hampshire TV station in 2015. “It can take three seconds to kill somebody.”

Anyone who has driven on Maine roads after a winter storm, particularly the highway, knows that slippery conditions aren’t the only potential danger. If you’ve ever been stuck behind a car or truck with a pile of snow still on the roof, and seen it fly off at higher speeds, you know how much damage it can cause. This failure to clean off a car after a winter storm can put others in danger, plain and simple. The legal solution might not be totally simple, but the Maine Legislature has spent years wading through the details.

So LD 522, introduced by Democratic Rep. Bruce White and the newest iteration in this debate, should finally make it across the finish line. The bill would impose fines between $150 and $500 for people driving on public roadways with unsecured snow or ice on their vehicles more than 48 hours after a storm. Unlike previous efforts, it does not exempt commercial vehicles from the requirements and the potential fines, and rightly so.

Margaret Trebilcock of Topsham testified to lawmakers on March 2 about an 18-inch chunk of ice that she says flew off a car in front of her last winter and struck her windshield while she was driving home from grocery shopping. She included a picture of that smashed damaged windshield in her testimony — it wasn’t pretty, and even with insurance, the repairs and a rental car cost her about $700.

“This is just one example of what can happen on Maine roads when people neglect to clean off their cars. I am sure the person in front of me did not leave home intending to cause so much damage. Nonetheless, they did. The driver never stopped,” Trebilcock told lawmakers. “I have no idea whether they even saw what happened as a result of their lack of attention to clearing off their car. The outcome was that I was left ‘holding the bag’ for their negligence. Supporting LD 522 will provide clear expectations to Mainers regarding their responsibility to operate their vehicles on our public roadways after storms. It is unfortunate that we need a law to regulate behavior toward making roads safer for all, but the fact remains that until we do, accidents like mine will continue to happen.”

Barb Wood, a former legislator from Portland, shared her past experience running L.L. Bean’s distribution center and her belief that cleaning snow and ice off trucks was still the right thing to do, even if it wasn’t the law.

“I knew there would be an expense to deal with the big rigs at L.L. Bean. But at L.L. Bean safety is really the utmost. So we built a structure, fondly called a ‘sky plow,’ that tractor-trailers drive under and is at the height to scrape snow off the roof. It can also be adjusted to different heights,” Wood testified.

So it’s not a matter of technology. School districts have a similar option with their school buses.  

Other states have figured out how to do this. Private industry and schools have figured out ways to balance operational realities, along with the safety of their drivers and other drivers on the road. After years of debate, Maine lawmakers must now figure out how to do the same. They don’t have to reinvent the wheel — or the shovel or ice scraper — to do so.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...