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It’s a Snow Emergency. Now what?

February 5, 2016 By Erin H. Cancienne

During winter months in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, residents cannot help but notice the “Emergency Snow Route” signs and the news reports of snow emergencies.  However, many do not know what snow emergencies really mean.  What are residents required to do in a snow emergency and what is the penalty for failing to take those actions?

District of Columbia

Under the District of Columbia regulations, §18-2219, “whenever snow, sleet, or freezing rain is falling within the District or whenever there is a covering or coating of snow, sleet, or ice on any street in the District marked as a Snow Emergency Route, no person in charge of a motor vehicle operated on any such street shall allow the vehicle to become stalled on that street due to the fact that the driving wheels of the vehicle are not equipped with tire chains or effective snow tires.”  Similarly, “no person in charge of a motor vehicle operated on such street shall allow the vehicle to become stalled on that street due to the fact that the motor fuel supply of the vehicle has been allowed to become exhausted.”  If your vehicle does become stalled on a snow emergency route, then you have an obligations to take actions to have the vehicle towed or pushed off the roadway.  The vehicle cannot be abandoned in that condition.  However, the operator of the vehicle can leave for a brief period to get assistance, if a note is left with the vehicle.  The note must say what time the operator left the vehicle, and where the operator was going.  The fine for violating these provisions is $250.  In addition, the vehicle can be towed off of that route.

In Washington, D.C., there is an area-wide requirement for residents to clear all snow and ice from sidewalks in front of their residence within the first 8 hours of daylight after the precipitation stopped.  If it is impossible to remove the snow and ice without damaging the sidewalk, then residents can treat the sidewalk with sand, sawdust, or other material to make the sidewalk safe for pedestrian traffic.  Residents over 65 years of age, and residents with a disability are exempted from this requirement.  Disabilities include any disability determined by any government assistance program, as well as disabilities identified by a medical doctor with appropriate documentation.  The penalty for violating this section is a fine of no more than $25 per day.


In Maryland, the requirements for a snow emergency are stated in Maryland Transportation Article, §21-1119.  There are two requirements for everyone in the state.  Both involve the snow emergency routes.  First, “[a] person may not drive or attempt to drive a motor vehicle, other than a motorcycle, on any highway that is designated and appropriately signposted as a snow emergency route and for which a snow emergency has been declared and is in effect, unless the vehicle is equipped with chains or snow tires on at least one wheel at each end of a driving axle.”

Second, “[a] person may not park a vehicle on any highway that is designated and appropriately signposted as a snow emergency route and for which a snow emergency has been declared and is in effect.”  Any vehicle parked on a snow emergency route during a snow emergency can be towed. 

The penalty for violating either of these requirements is a fine up to $500. 

There is no state-wide requirement for residents of Maryland to clean the snow or ice off of their sidewalks.  However, the state has granted authority to municipalities to require the residents to clear these areas.  Residents should check with their local governments as to the requirements for snow removal on the sidewalks.


Instead of statewide snow emergency laws in Virginia, Virginia has authorized “the governing body of any county, city, or town may by ordinance regulate the operation of vehicles on the highways in such county, city, or town in the event of snow, sleet, hail, freezing rain, ice, water, flood, high wind, storm or the threat thereof.”  These regulations can include: 1) prohibition of parking, operating, and abandoning vehicles on designated highways, 2) authorizing removal of vehicles that are on the designated highways, 3) designating certain highways as “play areas for sledding and similar recreational activities”, 4) authorizing the operation of snowmobiles on highways or streets during the snow or ice, and 5) setting fines for violations.  The fines can be in addition to charges for removing and storing vehicles.  The fines cannot exceed $50 for each offense.  As the Virginia restrictions are not statewide, it is important that residents in Virginia check with local government to determine the exact regulations and restrictions for their area.

Virginia, like Maryland, does not have statewide snow removal requirements for sidewalk.  A county can provide for reasonable criteria and requirements for removal or snow and ice from sidewalks.  The ordinance must include reasonable time frames for compliance, and reasonable exceptions for handicapped, elderly persons and others physically incapable of such removal.  In addition, civil penalties can be imposed under these ordinances and cannot exceed $100.

During this winter, be safe, stay warm, and know what your community requires when a snow emergency comes.