New Jersey enacts new winter weather safety law.

October 30, 2009

New Jersey has enacted a law which may be the first of its kind in the nation. On October 21, 2009, New Jersey Governor Corzine signed a law that requires all drivers to remove accumulated ice and/or snow from their motor vehicles prior to operating the vehicle on any roadway. This includes vehicles from the smallest compact cars to the largest tractor trailers. Drivers are expected to clean snow off of the roof, hood, trunk and windshield. The law is officially "on the books" but does not go into effect until next year, winter season 2010-2011, giving commercial vehicle owner/operators sufficient time to purchase and install snow removal equipment.

If a police officer spots a driver who has failed to remove snow and/or ice from his or her vehicle, it is likely that driver will be pulled over, especially if the officer sees that the accumulated ice/snow has the potential to harm persons or property. This violation of failing to remove snow/ice from one's vehicle carries with it a cost of $25 - $75. If snow accumulates while driving during a storm, the vehicle/driver would be exempt.

In a situation where snow or ice is dislodged from a non-commercial moving vehicle and strikes another vehicle or pedestrian causing harm or physical damage, the operator of the vehicle faces a fine of $200 - $1,000. In the case of a commercial vehicle dislodging snow or ice and causing damage to another vehicle or person, the owner, operator, and/or lessee of said commercial vehicle is subject to a fine of $500 - $1,500.

In case you are wondering how many points these offenses carry or what effect they will have on auto insurance eligibility, the answer is zero. No motor vehicle points will be assessed.

In the coming months, we all will become more aware of the law as the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety issues its public service campaign to educate the public on the importance of snow and ice removal from exposed surfaces of motor vehicles prior to advancing to the roadways. There are many potential dangers associated with snow and ice falling and flying from moving vehicles, such as chunks of ice hitting and cracking another motorist's windows or windshield, flying snow from vehicles causing blind spots and/or diminished visibility for surrounding drivers, and pedestrians being hit with chards of ice or heavy amounts of accumulated, packed snow. Accumulated snow falling off moving cars has caused many New Jersey car accidents.

The state intends for the fines collected by offenders of this new law to go toward funding the public awareness campaign, as well as the purchase and installation of equipment and technology used in the removal of snow and ice from motor vehicles, especially large trucks.

Laws in both New Jersey and Pennsylvania already exist to punish drivers if ice or snow from their vehicle becomes dislodged and causes injury, and in New Jersey, the law also applies to property damage. New Jersey has decided to take a more preventive measure in protecting people and property with the passing of this most current law. 

A similar law was introduced in Pennsylvania by State Senator Lisa Boscola in 2007. Like New Jersey's new law, this bill proposed fining individuals for failure to remove snow and ice from vehicles before driving them. The bill, however, stalled in committee and has not been reintroduced by Pennsylvania legislators.

This new law may also be just another reason for police officers to pull someone over for driving under the influence (DUI). Due to the many holiday parties, DUIs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey spike during the wintertime. Don't give the police another reason to pull you over…clean your car!

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Are you guilty of DWT?

October 13, 2009

With all of the recent study results surfacing on the dangers of "distracted driving", wireless phone industry lobby, CTIA-The Wireless Association, who once opposed bans on texting or talking while driving, has changed its position. In fact, many related interest groups, including The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, are working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration toward making driving while texting illegal.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) does not favor a nationwide law on the matter. This group finds the current proposals in Congress unpalatable because the proposals include language that requires states to ban driving while texting (DWT) in order to receive federal highway funds. They contend that this is counterproductive at a time when states should be spending on road projects.

Currently, eighteen states and the District of Columbia have laws against texting while driving (DWT). At least half of these states have passed their anti-texting laws within the last year. Undoubtedly, many more states will be following suit.

In late September the U.S. Department of Transportation held a summit on distracted driving. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood shared with participants findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which show that nearly 6,000 people died in 2008 in car accidents involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than half a million people were injured. 

No one can deny that distracted drivers create a dangerous potential for accidents. Therefore it's comforting to know that so many states have implemented laws banning texting while driving, right? Well, the states' laws are not all the same. What is "distracted driving" - other than a vastly broad term? Though many of us consider drivers who conduct activities such as reading, eating, using cell phone applications, programming an iPod or navigation system, shaving, and/or applying make-up while driving to certainly be distracted, most states' distracted driving laws only address cell phone use (calling and texting).

The New Jersey cell-phone law charges a fine of $100 for the use of a hand held wireless telephone while operating a motor vehicle. In Pennsylvania, a law banning any sort of distracted driving has not yet been passed, though Philadelphia's ban on handheld cell phones and texting takes effect November 1st.

What do you think about DWT? Should it be illegal? Can it be enforced?

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