Truckers to Review Snow-Removal Ideas in Wake of Connecticut Concerns

March 11, 2008

The country’s leading trucking industry group says it will seek new ways to help truckers in Connecticut and nationwide remove ice and snow from atop their rigs without endangering themselves.

The American Trucking Associations said in a letter to Gov. M. Jodi Rell last week that big-rig drivers share her concerns about dangers that airborne snow and ice pose to other drivers.

Former Kansas Gov. Bill Graves, head of the Virginia-based ATA, said it is asking the American Transportation Research Institute to study the issue, and to suggest new technology or equipment that helps truckers clear their roofs without the dangers of slipping off.

The move comes as Connecticut legislators consider penalties for drivers who cause crashes or injuries specifically because they neglected to clear their vehicles’ roofs.

The result can be what Rell calls “ice missiles,” large sheets of snow and ice that fly into traffic and can break windshields or cause other damage to nearby vehicles.

The tighter rules would apply to all types of vehicles. However, supporters of the penalties have specifically mentioned tractor-trailers, box trucks and other large commercial vehicles as frequent culprits.

National and state trucking advocates have said for years that it is difficult and unsafe for drivers to climb atop big rigs to shovel off snow or chip away ice.

The lightweight material in many of the roofs becomes dangerously slippery and could break under the workers’ weight, and the trucking company owners risk violating worker-safety laws if they push the issue.

“(Our) members have struggled to find practical approaches to resolving the problem,” Graves wrote in his letter to Rell, which also was delivered Friday to state lawmakers.

Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said the ATA’s letter puts the concerns in a national light and might prompt solutions that benefit all sides.

“It’s a real problem, and you can’t just say you can’t do anything about it anymore,” he said. “Together we’ll make an honest effort at trying to figure out what we can do about it. This attention is a good thing and Connecticut can take some of the credit for that.”

New Jersey and Pennsylvania are the only states that currently have specific snow and ice rules on the books, although police in Connecticut and elsewhere can ticket drivers for causing unsafe conditions.

The Connecticut legislature’s Transportation Committee on Friday approved a measure that would prompt fines of $200 to $1,000 for drivers who leave snow and ice on their vehicles, causing a crash or injury when it dislodges and flies off.

It wouldn’t apply if a car is parked and the accumulation flies off because of heavy winds or other factors. Nor would it require people to pull over and clear their roofs if the snow and ice builds as they are driving through a storm.

The bill, which next goes to the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, would go into effect June 1, 2009 if approved by the General Assembly. Realistically, that means it would not be enforced until the weather turns poor in fall or winter 2009.

State Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said the delay is meant to give all drivers enough time to learn about the law and, especially, to let truckers find ways to comply.

“It doesn’t help anyone to pass a law that nobody can comply with, and then we’re out there kind of wringing our hands and saying, ‘Why didn’t we do it right in the first place?”‘ he said.

Rell said Friday that neither she nor the scores of Connecticut residents who expressed their concerns to her think the issue needs further study.

“The public is demanding immediate action to make our roads safer to travel on, and so am I,” she said. “We want irresponsible drivers to be held accountable for creating needless danger and destruction in their paths.”

Some trucking companies have tried to resolve the problem by installing special equipment at their depots.

United Parcel Service, Wal-Mart, FedEx, A. Duie Pyle and several other companies use a device in some of their locations called a scraper, which consists of two vertical beams connected in the middle by a rubber-bottom blade.

As the trucks drive under the scraper, it pulls snow and ice off the roof, said Bill Yeaglin, president and founder of Scraper Systems Inc. of Mount Joy, Penn. The devices, which start around $18,000 each, can be adjusted with an electric hoist.

Yeaglin patented the design after 18 years at a trucking company, where he juggled concerns over worker safety against the potential liability of letting ice and snow accumulate on the big rig’s roofs.

“When people say there’s no answer out there, there’s no technology, I can say this is something that’s been around for years now,” Yeaglin said.

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