Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Tickets rare for driving in snow emergency

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

So, you drove the Tristate roads during a Level 3 snow emergency without getting a $100 ticket this weekend?

Don't feel so smug.

"Nobody has time to ticket anybody," said Frank Young, emergency services director in Warren County, where the high-level snow emergency was in effect Saturday and into Sunday afternoon.

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It was one of several Tristate counties to issue the rarely used prohibition on driving in the height of freezing rain and snow, which pummeled the area this weekend.

"The main purpose behind that is so salt crews can get out and get the roads clear," Young said. "People pay no attention, then they wonder why the streets aren't cleared."

Officials with the Ohio State Highway Patrol said they rarely pull anyone over during those extreme conditions because it might cause a crash. "It's dangerous for us and the people you want to stop," said Sgt. Ken Ward of the patrol's Lebanon Post.

"The only time we would be able to take action is if you were involved in a crash. You would probably be cited."

Lt. Mike Crawford of the Kentucky State Police in Dry Ridge said troopers don't ticket unless the governor shuts down roadways - an extreme situation that last happened in the early 1990s.

Otherwise, "we encourage people not to drive, but we don't ticket them," he said.

Generally, county officials in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana are responsible for determining the level of emergency in their area.

The lowest level warns drivers of hazards of blowing and drifting snow and icy conditions and to drive cautiously.

Level 2 warns drivers to travel with extreme caution and to drive only if necessary, such as for work.

Level 3 means that all roadways are supposed to be closed to anything but emergency vehicles or emergency travel. Citations could be issued for reckless or unnecessary driving. Motorists who cause an accident with injuries face upgraded charges.

They also might face an even bigger whammy from their insurance companies.

Ward said he fielded calls from several drivers whose insurance companies denied claims because their crash occurred during a Level 3 emergency and "they weren't supposed to be out."

Mary Bonelli, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Insurance Institute in Columbus, said such a denial would be unusual.

"I'm not aware of a majority of (insurance) writers in the state that would deny coverage under those circumstances," she said, suggesting that motorists who have experienced similar problems call (614) 228-1593.

"That's not typical," said Brian Maze, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance Co.'s home office in Newark, Ohio. State Farm pays its crash claims regardless of the snow emergency warning, he said.

E-mail smclaughlin@enquirer.com

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