At least three vehicle drivers or occupants were injured by flying ice from vehicles in Maryland yesterday, according to police and media reports.   The drivers “suffered eye injuries from spraying glass from windshields broken by ice from other vehicles,” according to the Maryland State Police. The incidents reportedly occurred on Interstates 495 and 95. 

Driving on icy or snowy roads treated and plowed by local and state road crews is already dangerous and risky enough without having to dodge chunks of snow and ice falling off big-rigs and moving vehicles, warns AAA Mid-Atlantic. Although Maryland State Troopers can issue tickets to motorists for having accumulated snow or ice on the surface of their vehicles, including from the hood, roof and trunk area, Maryland does not have a specific vehicle snow removal law on the books.

 “Snow and ice flying off moving vehicles will cause other drivers to swerve to avoid it, and they can run off the road or swerve into another lane of traffic where other motorists are traveling, causing a deadly domino effect,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. So before leaving your driveway or your curbside parking spot, and before you go, clear every inch of snow and ice accumulated on the exposed surfaces from your vehicle.”

Removing snow and ice from your vehicle is important. Driving with snow cascading from your car’s roof can limit visibility for others on the road, putting them in danger. It is even a traffic violation in some states. “Just as the removal of snow from sidewalks along your home and business is a responsibility of all citizens, removing snow and ice from vehicles should be the responsibility of every driver before it becomes dislodged while driving down the highways. It is the duty and debt we owe one another,” said Townsend. 

It is common sense:  drivers who don’t clean the ice and snow from their vehicles could easily lose chunks of ice when driving at highway speeds. Those chunks can easily become deadly “ice missiles.” So, before hitting the road, it is crucial to clear the snow and ice from your vehicle. Here’s some advice on how to get snow and ice off your car in a hurry. 

  • Make or buy a de-icer spray and use it on the windshield, side windows and mirrors to kick ice clearing into high gear.
  • Use de-icer on the wiper blades and pull them off the glass before scraping the windshield. Tears on the rubber parts of the blades could ruin them.
  • A telescoping foam snow brush can help you clear hard to- reach areas on the roof. Plus, unlike brooms and shovels, foam tools are less likely to scratch a car’s finish.
  • Work from the top down, pulling snow toward you. It requires less effort and helps you avoid having to clear the same areas twice.
  • If the vehicle is an SUV or taller—grab a step stool to help access the roof
  • When possible, park facing east the night before. This will give the sun a chance to get the melting going in the a.m.
  • Never use hot water to melt ice; instead, let your front and rear defrosters work their magic – just make sure the tailpipe is clear and never leave the engine running in an enclosed area like a garage. 

Winter driving can be extremely dangerous. Attorneys say they have “litigated horrific motor vehicle accidents where huge chunks of snow and ice have flown off the tops of these cars and trucks and caused serious accidents.” In the District of Columbia, the drivers of trucks and operators of commercial vehicles with heavy snow and massive chunk of ice will be pulled over by an array of law enforcement agencies operating in the city. However, the procedure doesn’t apply to the drivers of personal or non-commercial vehicles. Currently, however, there is no fine for the violation in the nation’s capital even though there is such a law in place. Although the District Council passed an emergency vehicle snow removal law in 2009 that remained on the books for 225 days, it has not since passed a permanent law specifically setting a fine for the offense.

Six years ago members of a Virginia General Assembly subcommittee tabled a bill drafted to penalize drivers up to $75 for failing to remove snow and ice from their motor vehicles. Maryland law requires drivers to clear snow and ice from their windows and vehicle lights, but not from their hoods or roofs, according to published reports. Curiously, Maryland has “no allowance for snow or ice when the truck is weighed,” the trucking industry says. 

“A law is needed in Maryland, Virginia and the District to help protect drivers from sheets of snow and ice flying off from vehicles while they are driving down the road. After this epic snowstorm, it can be a matter of life or death if drivers fail to remove the snow and ice,” said Townsend.

Given the sheer weight and density of accumulated snow and ice on vehicles, it constitutes inconsiderate driving at the very least and careless driving at worst, cautions AAA Mid-Atlantic. To combat this, a tiny handful of states on the east coast, namely New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, has passed laws requiring drivers of vehicles to remove snow or ice from their cars before driving. In New Jersey, the drivers of commercial vehicles can be fined from $500 up to $1,500 for violating the state’s snow and ice removal law, which went into effect in 2010.

A survey by AAA Mid-Atlantic at that time showed that 67% of the drivers it polled in that state supported the law. Pennsylvania law lays it down: the operator of a vehicle can be fined from $500 up to $1,500, if the snow or ice is dislodged or falls from a moving vehicle and strikes another vehicle or pedestrian causing death or serious bodily injury, according to the Pennsylvania State Police. What’s more, “the operator of the vehicle from which the snow or ice is dislodged or falls shall be subject to a fine of not less than $200 nor more than $1,000 for each offense.” In New Hampshire, motorists can “be fined $250 to $500 for not clearing snow and ice off your roof with higher fines for second offenses.”

Compounding matters, over half (54%) of big rig drivers surveyed in the United States and Canada said they “rarely or never” remove accumulated snow and ice from their vehicles, according to a 2009 study by the American Transportation Research Institute, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. Yet 35 percent of the tractor-trailer drivers surveyed could tell of an experience of snow or ice causing injury or property damage to another motorist, the ATRI study revealed.

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