Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The District cracked down Tuesday on motorists who fail to clean their vehicles after winter storms, which can result in chunks of ice hurtling onto other vehicles.

The City Council unanimously approved the ordinance, which makes the District the only U.S. city with such a law, but it did not include a $50 fine with the citation.

“It’s a common-sense measure,” said council member Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, who introduced the legislation. “People need to take a little more time preparing as they drive in icy conditions.”

The decision to exclude the fine was the result of several council members saying the bill was too vague and was crafted without consulting the Metropolitan Police Department or the city’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Some amount of public comment [also] would be useful for this,” said council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat.

The council’s 13 members unanimously approved the bill after council member Michael Brown, at-large independent, made the amendment to omit the fine.

“We have cars coming off the roads that are like igloos,” he said.

The law takes effect immediately and will be in place for 90 days.

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, said the original bill gave too much authority to a police officer, who would have to determine whether a driver made the effort to clear accumulated snow.

John Lisle, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation, said the agency had not been consulted on the issue but added that employees have been issuing similar notices.

“It’s just common sense,” he said.

John B. Townsend II, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, said freezing rain can add 10 to 20 pounds per foot to the weight of a vehicle, which can result in serious danger.

“It’s a debt you owe to other drivers to clean off your vehicle,” he said.

A similar bill is being debated in New Jersey. It would fine motorists as much as $75 for failing to clear their vehicles after a winter storm.

Pennsylvania has a similar law, which fines motorists as much as $1,000, but only if flying ice from a vehicle hits another vehicle or person and causes harm.

“We’ve all been subjected to situations where we see snow flying off the cars and onto pedestrians,” said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat.

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