Monday, February 2, 2009

Ice Emergency

The DC Council is considering enacting legislation to make it a traffic violation to have ice on the hood or roof of your car while driving because it presents a hazard to other drivers. Apparently, DC may be the first jurisdiction to do so. While the proposal may have merit, the cynic in me says, "great work, Council, what we need is another unenforced law." (And it is classic that the law was proposed by Councilmember Thomas as "emergency legislation" - I guess winter snuck up as a complete surprise!)

For instance, you probably know that DC law requires those who control property (this includes owners, renters, business owners, etc.) to keep the area in front of their house or store clear of snow (within 8 hours of daylight when the snowfall stops). What is not as widely known is that there is no mechanism for enforcement. No citation, no fine, nada. Apparently, if the owner or occupant doesn't step up, the city is supposed to do it. More likely, the person who gets injured will have to sue. When it comes to public property, the DC government has responsibility to keep the sidewalk safe.

What I've found over the years is that almost without fail, the places you are most likely to go down hard are vacant properties and properties owned by the DC government. I'm kicking myself for not taking a few photos after our recent little snow as I walked, I mean, slid, passed some DC-owned/vacant properties. Often, good samaritans on the blocks are nice enough to pick up the slack. So if the government wants to discuss the risks of ice, I challenge them to enforce the laws already on the books (how about citing vacant property owners for not clearing the ice, just like when I get a ticket like clockwork for forgetting to move my car on alternate street sweeping days) and get their own act in order.

1 comment:

Eileen said...

Unfortunately, suing apparently won't work in DC either -- see Murphy v. Schwankhaus, online at:

Here's a short excerpt which will give you the gist:

"No duty existed at common law to keep the sidewalk in front of
one's premises free from ice and snow. See Albertie v. Louis &
Alexander Corp., 646 A.2d 1001, 1003 (D.C.1994). In contrast to the
common law, D.C. Code § 9-601 (2001) requires property owners to
keep public sidewalks in front of their premises free of snow. See
Reichman v. Franklin Simon Corp., 392 A.2d 9, 14 (D.C. 1978)
('District of Columbia law unquestionably requires a property owner
to clear abutting sidewalks.'). That said, the law is clear that a
private individual lacks standing to sue under the statute; only the
District of Columbia government has authority to enforce it. Id.
Accordingly, in line with the result at common law, 'a real property
owner is under no duty to keep the sidewalk abutting its property
clear of snow and ice for the benefit of pedestrians.'"

What I really want to know, though, is: when a driver clears the car off by throwing the snow onto the sidewalk (the usual method in my experience), who's responsible for cleaning it up?