New laws could protect drivers from highway ‘ice missiles’

  • An ice missile flew through Bill Taylor’s pickup truck in New Hampshire last year. N.H. Department of Transportation

  • Bill Taylor, a Department of Transportation worker, needed about a dozen stitches after an "ice missile" flew through the window of his pickup truck in New Hampshire last year. (Courtesy of Bill Taylor/TNS) Courtesy of Bill Taylor

Pew Stateline
Published: 1/23/2020 6:11:48 PM

Bill Taylor was driving home from work in New Hampshire last January when a chunk of ice the size of a shoebox broke off the top of a storage container hauled by a truck ahead of him, crashed through his windshield and hit him squarely in the forehead.

A good Samaritan stopped and called 911. An ambulance took Taylor to the emergency room. He had a 3-inch gash on his forehead and broken glass embedded in his hands and face. He received about a dozen stitches.

“It could have been worse,” said Taylor, 42, a road and bridge construction inspector for the New Hampshire Department of Transportation. “I could have died if it had hit me in the neck and throat.”

Taylor was the victim of an “ice missile” incident, in which sheets or blocks of snow and ice fly off roofs or windshields of cars and trucks, endangering those in vehicles behind them. Ice missiles can distract drivers and cause them to swerve into other cars. And they can crack windshields, and sometimes cause injuries – even deaths.

“They don’t call them missiles for nothing. They create significant hazards,” said Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the National Safety Council, an Itasca, Ill.-based organization focused on eliminating preventable deaths. “Even if they don’t result in an injury, it’s terrifying, especially if you’re going down the highway at 65 miles an hour and you see something flying toward your windshield.”

Police and safety officials encourage drivers to keep their vehicles’ roofs and windshields clear of snow and ice, but not everyone takes heed. A year ago, for example, state troopers in Connecticut warned of an “alarmingly high” number of missiles flying off vehicles after a late January snow and ice storm.

In many states, it’s not illegal to leave the snow there, though some legislators are trying to change that. Many in the trucking industry oppose the efforts, worrying about the dangers of requiring operators to remove snow and ice from the tops of large rigs.

“It’s very difficult to get on top of the trailer and remove that snow and ice,” said Abigail Potter, a safety policy manager at the American Trucking Associations, a trade group. “It can result in workplace injuries.”

At least four states – Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania and Vermont – have bills pending that would require drivers to clear off excessive ice and snow and would impose fines for violators, said Samantha Bloch, a policy associate at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some states allow police to ticket motorists if their vehicle is considered a danger or the driver can’t see through an icy or snowy windshield, Bloch said. But only a handful have laws specific to ice missiles.

Connecticut motorists can be fined $120 if they don’t remove accumulated snow or ice. If a missile causes personal injury or property damage, the penalty is $200 to $1,000 for non-commercial drivers and $500 to $1,250 for commercial drivers.

Last year, Connecticut State Police issued 372 citations to non-commercial drivers and nearly 150 to commercial drivers, according to spokesman Trooper Josue Dorelus.

“It’s a huge concern for us,” Dorelus said. “We know that whenever chunks of ice or snow go flying from vehicles traveling at 55, 65 or even 75 miles an hour, it becomes a hazard for our motorists.”

New Jersey has a similar statute. Pennsylvania’s ice missile law applies only if snow or ice strikes another car or person and causes serious injury or death.

New Hampshire’s law refers to negligent driving and doesn’t mention snow or ice, but legislators intended for police to use it to cite drivers who don’t remove built-up ice or snow from their vehicles. It’s called “Jessica’s law,” named after a woman killed in 1999 when ice from a tractor-trailer hit a truck that ended up colliding with her car.




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