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N.H. plow drivers want to protect driving records

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – The people who drive city and town snowplows in New Hampshire say they are being treated unfairly by state law.

Under the law, if someone hits them as they clear snow, the incident goes on their personal driving record and can raise their private insurance rates. Police officers, firefighters and ambulance drivers do not face the same situation.

"I think it stinks," said Bob Bennett, Belmont’s public works director whose 20-year safety record was recently jeopardized when a car crashed into the town-owned plow truck. "We work in hazardous conditions. The roads are slippery and people are driving way too fast. I’m the one that’s going to suffer."

Chum Cleverly, Bow’s public works director, has been trying to get the law changed, but so far, his idea isn’t getting any traction. He’s gone to the Safety Department and Insurance Commission, to no avail. He’s also written to congressmen and state reps, but hasn’t gotten a serious response from anyone.

"Our job is as much public safety as the fire or police departments," Cleverly said. "And if we’re not out there making sure the roads are passable, the ambulance and police aren’t going to get around."

State Safety Commissioner Richard Flynn says the drivers should ask the Legislature to change the law.

In an e-mail to Cleverly last December, Earl Sweeney, the assistant Department of Safety commissioner, said the department was not considering changing the rules, the Concord Monitor reported.

"For one thing, once this was started – where would it go from there?" Sweeney wrote.

"Would it begin with state and local plow truck drivers, then expand to include those contract plows who contract to the state and to the cities and towns and who could also argue that they have no choice but to go out in the storms; then to those who plow private driveways, under the same rationale. "At the present time it does not appear feasible to make the change."

Cleverly said private plow contractors are not required to be out in the thick of a storm, and they can recoup their costs by passing them on to their customers, something town drivers cannot do.

"These guys (town and state plow-truck drivers) are forced to work in extreme, inclement weather," he said. "We want to have fault assigned. And if it’s ours, we’re more than willing to take responsibility, financially and morally. But if it’s not, and we’re driving someone else’s vehicle, I don’t think it’s fair to see their insurance go up."

Roger Sevigny, the state insurance commissioner, said even if the law stays the same, shopping for an insurance company could help. "Every insurance company that develops rates develops them differently," he said. "As long as it’s not a violation of the rating laws, companies can charge you for being in an accident. . . . We don’t set rates."