BRATTLEBORO -- Snow brushes and ice scrapers might soon become tools for Vermont drivers to avoid fines.
Two local lawmakers are among those proposing a new state law that would criminalize driving without first removing snow and ice from a vehicle.
The concept is earning a cautious endorsement from some law-enforcement officers, and officials say it was spurred by drivers' safety concerns.
"This bill came about because of complaints about sheets of snow falling off of vehicles and tractor-trailers and onto the windshields of cars on the highway," said Rep. Mollie Burke, a Brattleboro Progressive Democrat.
"The question, as with many bills we face, is whether or not this is an educational issue or a legislative issue," added Burke, a member of the House Transportation Committee. "The problem could be solved with consideration for the safety of others. Unfortunately, this does not always happen, and thus, legislation is needed to address the issue."
The bill (H.647), which also is supported by Rep. Mike Hebert, R-Vernon, requires "removal of accumulated snow and ice from a motor vehicle and any trailer or semi-trailer drawn by the motor vehicle prior to operation on a public highway."
The goal is to "avoid a threat to persons or property caused by the dislodging of accumulated ice or snow or by obstruction of the operator's view," the proposed statute says.
Violators would face fines of $25 to $75. For operators of commercial vehicles, the fines rise to $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense and $500 for a third or subsequent offense.
Lawmakers also provide for another potential penalty.
"An operator's failure, without excuse, to cause removal of ice and snow ... which causes property damage or personal injury shall constitute negligence per se in a civil action to recover for such damage or injury," the bill says.
There is a caveat: A driver wouldn't be violating the proposed law "if the ice or snow has accumulated on the vehicle during a continuous period of operation, provided he or she uses wipers to clear the windshield."
That is one area of concern for Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark, who wonders how reliably law-enforcement officers can determine when and in what manner snow has accumulated on a vehicle.
School buses, which often are stored outside and may be piloted by older drivers, also are a concern for Clark.
"Who's going to actually climb on top of the bus and clear the snow off?" he asked. "Do we want to risk injury to the driver?"
But Clark also says the bill, "in concept, is a good idea." He is president of the Vermont Sheriffs' Association, and he said the matter has been discussed among the organization's members.
When snow and ice piles up on a vehicle, "there's always that potential for injury," Clark said. "It's not just trucks. It's personal cars, vans, SUVs."
Capt. Ray Keefe, who commands Vermont State Police Troop D (which includes the Brattleboro and Rockingham barracks), said snow removal is a "common-sense issue."
"If you've ever been behind a tractor-trailer, and big block of ice or a lot of snow comes at you, it's a hazard," Keefe said.
The 25-year State Police veteran said he wishes that drivers would clean off their vehicles without prodding from lawmakers.
"I would hate to think that we have to get the government involved in this," Keefe said.
But he also noted that he recently followed a car with the entire back window obscured by snow.
"Anything we can do to make the roads safer, we should do," Keefe said.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.