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New solutions to prevent “ice missiles” from causing deadly truck accidents

How the trucking industry is using innovative snow removal systems to clear falling ice and snow from big rigs

ice missile commercial truck image

The phrase “ice missile” has a unique meaning to Michigan drivers. And as a truck accident attorney in this state, there are simply some types of accidents that are unique to Michigan winters that attorneys in warmer states simply won’t ever see.

We’ve been relatively lucky this winter, but more snow is coming. As driver, we’ve all seen those cars and big rigs on the road that seem to have a crazy, almost impossible, amount of snow and ice on the roofs. We all feel like the crazier the heap of snow on top of the vehicle, the more likely the odds that this car or truck will be driving directly ahead of us. It adds to the white knuckled-steering wheel commute that we as Michiganders get to experience from time to time.

But these piles of snow and ice on top of cars and trucks are also incredibly dangerous. I’ve 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. This has also led to the name – “ice missiles.”

When ice missiles fall from atop commercial trucks, it can be deadly. Because of the greater height of trucks and the greater mass that the ice and snow can accumulate, these ice missiles can land on top of cars and smash through car windshields, injuring drivers and passengers. In addition, heavy snow and ice buildup on trucks and trailers can sap fuel economy, add weight and damage the equipment.

But there’s some good news to report here. Motor carriers are now using a variety of specialized snow-removal systems to clear the tops of their vehicles. While the impetus of the new technologies seems to be saving fuel money and reducing weight and equipment costs, the technology will nevertheless prevent these types of truck accidents as well (even if it was transportation economics, and not injury and wrongful death lawsuits, that were the primary motivating force for these new technologies).

Here’s a preview of each one, according to a recent article in Transport Topics, “Carriers Utilize Specialized Equipment to remove Snow, Ice from Trailer Tops:”

  • Scraper Systems, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, offers a system that removes snow as a truck passes underneath a plow-like scraper.
  • TrucBrush, based in South Easton, Massachusetts, provides a broom-like device that connects to a front-end loader and is powered by the loader’s hydraulic system to clear snow from the tops of tractor-trailers.
  • To help get snow even farther away from the vehicle, snow-removal equipment from Yetico Inc., based in St. Jean sur Richelieu, Quebec, shoots it 40 to 60 feet away.
  • Drivers who need to remove snow while out on the road can use specially designed brushes, like A Better Snow Rake, developed by Bill Tostel, which has an angled brush so it can reach the top of a trailer.
  • In addition, some carriers are using Traction Magic by sprinkling the product on snow or ice to prevent slips and falls, or using it near tires to increase traction if a vehicle is stuck.
  • I’d like to give kudos to A. Duie Pyle Inc., a regional carrier based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, which has equipped each of its terminals with the plow-like devices from Scraper Systems to remove snow and ice from its trailers.

“Snow and ice are a detriment. The additional weight affects fuel mileage, and trailer roofs can collapse because of it,” Dan Carrano, director of fleet maintenance for the company, told Transport Topics, adding that A. Duie Pyle also invests in large plows and bucket loaders to clear snow on the ground.

Last year, I wrote about a law Connecticut passed that requires drivers to clean off all the ice and snow from their cars before driving. Those who do not clear their cars can be stuck with a $75 fine. And if the ice or snow from a non-commercial vehicle happens to cause personal injury or property damage, the penalty can jump up to $1,000. Commercial vehicles –  including semi trucks and buses – that fail to clear their vehicles of ice and show face fines of $500 to $1,250 if any damage is caused.

Several states are following suit and have specific laws addressing snow and ice removal from commercial and passenger vehicles, including New Jersey.

Michigan does not.

I hope to see an increase in the enforcement of snow and ice removal from the tops of trucks and trailers in states like Michigan, where I primarily practice trucking and injury law.  And I certainly encourage FMSCA and state legislatures to address whether all motor carriers should be adopting these important measures to prevent truck and bus wrecks from falling ice and snow.

Related info:

10 winter truck inspection tips for commercial motor vehicle drivers

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