“Ice Missile” Personal Injuries

There is no question that winter driving is hazardous in Pennsylvania. In the colder months, the morning drive to school or work can be plagued by freezing rain, icy roads, and snow. And many of us experience the need to spend more than a few minutes warming up our vehicles and scraping a thick layer of ice off our windshields.

As tempting as it can be to do an incomplete job of ice and snow removal when you are in a rush, this can create a very dangerous situation for you, your passengers, and other drivers. If your view is partially blocked or if ice and snow become dislodged from your vehicle, other drivers and even pedestrians can be in grave danger. These chunks of ice or snow that fall off the roofs of vehicles are referred to as “ice missiles,” and they have caused injury and even death on our roadways. Some lawmakers have proposed legislation to avoid ice missile injuries, but the current law is not as helpful as it could be in deterring such incidents.

Examples of Ice Missile Injuries

ice missile on car roof

As unlikely as it seems, you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time and become a victim of an ice missile as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian. The worst incidents often occur when a hardened block of snow or piece of ice dislodges from a larger vehicle, such as a bus or tractor trailer, and lands on a lower, smaller vehicle. It is not unheard of for such ice missiles to damage windshields and even crash through them, or put dents into car bodies. On Christmas day in 2005, a Pennsylvania driver named Christine Lambert was killed when a 10-inch piece of ice came loose from a truck and penetrated her windshield.

Ice missiles can also cause an accident even when they don’t directly strike a moving vehicle. A driver may swerve to avoid a falling piece of ice — or even an icicle that they feel is likely to become dislodged from another vehicle.

The Current Ice Missile Laws in Pennsylvania

In light of the dangers, the current laws in Pennsylvania seem to be inadequate to address the seriousness of the threat. As of now, a police officer can pull over a driver whose windshield or windows are not completely cleared of snow and ice if they believe it impairs the driver’s clear view of the road. Such a ticket costs a mere $25 fine, which likely is not going to deter many drivers.

On the other hand, if an officer spots a vehicle on the road that has a pile of snow on its roof or a truck whose bumper is covered in icicles, the driver cannot be pulled over for that reason. However, if that same ice or snow flies off of the vehicle and injures someone or causes property damage, a fine of between $200 and $1000 can be assessed. But again, this is only after injury or property damage has occured.

“Christine’s Law”

Snow covered cars

State senator Lisa Boscola has long tried to update the legislation in Pennsylvania to make drivers more accountable for clearing snow and ice from their vehicles before taking to the road. She has proposed Christine’s Law, named for Ms. Lambert, which would allow law enforcement to stop a vehicle that appears to present a hazard due to accumulated ice or snow — even if an ice missile personal injury has not yet been sustained. A fine of $25 to $75 could be imposed in such an event.

It is perhaps not surprising that the trucking industry has successfully helped to block this legislation from passing thus far. Some of their representatives claim that clearing ice and snow from tractor trailers poses a risk to truck drivers who could be made responsible for snow removal at more than 13 feet off the ground. However, Senator Boscola does not find the industry’s excuses persuasive, given that special heating or other ice clearing systems make it unnecessary for drivers to physically get on top of their trucks to do manual snow clearing.

After some concessions were made to the truckers, the bill passed the Pennsylvania State senate in the fall of 2019 and is now awaiting a vote in the House. The bottom line is that even small quantities of frozen or hardened snow and ice can cause a grave danger to others on the road, and both drivers and their employers must take responsibility for removing this threat.

Protecting Yourself and Others

Windshield clearing

It should go without saying that it is important to take the time to thoroughly remove snow and ice from your car before getting behind the wheel to protect others from an ice missile injury. Turning your car’s engine on for 5 to 10 minutes before you leave the house will go a long way in helping you remove any ice accumulation from the windshield, and has the added bonus of preheating your vehicle. It is also important to keep an ice scraper with a long handle and a brush on one end in your vehicle so you can sweep snow off the roof and other surfaces of your car. Do nott ignore your back door windows and side mirrors — you will need these to be clear to have a good view of what is happening around you at all times.

Contact Donaghue & Labrum

Negligent drivers can wreak havoc on the road any time of year, but especially in poor weather conditions. If snow or ice from another person’s car or truck has caused injury or property damage to you or your passengers, you may be entitled to compensation. Do not try to navigate this tricky area of the law on your own. Contact the attorneys at Donaghue & Labrum so we can put our personal injury law experience to work for you. We understand how to apply the current statutes to get you the maximum award for your suffering. Call us today for a free consultation!