Dangerous winter storms and bad weather are a factor in nearly half a million crashes and more than two thousand road deaths every winter.
About 46 percent of crashes involving bad weather take place in the winter, making it the worst time of year for driving in treacherous conditions, according to research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a non-profit, charitable organization.
Snow, ice and sleet are not only a problem when driving on the roadways, where it can cause significant safety problems by making it difficult to maneuver or stop, but also when it accumulates on the vehicle.
The accumulation of snow and ice on the vehicle can also have significant impacts on both the driver and those around. AAA experts explain why it is important to clear off your vehicle of snow and ice before hitting the roads, as it can have both legal and safety repercussions.
A crashed car sits at the bottom of one of Seattle’s steeper hills on an ice-slicked road in the Queen Anne neighborhood, Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
The accumulation of snow and ice on your vehicle raises a number of safety concerns.
It reduces visibility to the driver and it risks being dislodged during transit. If it is dislodged, it could cause property damage to other vehicles and even injure other motorists or pedestrians.
Additionally, nearby drivers may be blinded by light snow blowing off your vehicle, according to Rich Romer, AAA manager of state relations.
Despite these safety concerns, over half of commercial driver respondents, 54 percent, stated they never or rarely remove accumulated snow or ice, according to a 2009 survey.
There are numerous hacks that you can try if you find your windshield frozen with ice and snow during the winter, such as filling the windshield washer reservoir with a winter fluid and using a plastic scraper, soft bristle brush or squeegee to remove the ice as it melts.
In addition to the safety concerns, there are legal implications for failing to remove snow and ice from your vehicle before driving.
“Currently, every state has laws that make it illegal for items to fall from a vehicle while on the road. Law enforcement may prohibit vehicles from using the roadway if debris, which includes snow and ice, could fall from the vehicle and endanger individuals and/or property,” Romer said.
At least four states allow law enforcement to stop motorists who failed to clear their vehicles of snow and ice. These are often labeled “ice missile” laws.
Law enforcement in several other states may issue citations if the vehicle is considered a danger due to the inability to see out of the windshield, such as Alaska, Oklahoma or Washington.
These laws seek to prevent motorists from driving a vehicle with an obstruction on the windshield, roof, headlights, or side view mirrors.
Each year, legislators introduce bills in a handful of states related to ice removal on vehicles.
For example, Delaware introduced a bill in 2016 that would create a violation for failing to clear ice or snow from a vehicle, carrying a $75 to $1,500 penalty, depending on if it hit another vehicle.
Maryland also introduced a bill in 2016 that would prohibit the operation or towing of a vehicle without adequately clearing ice and snow, with fines ranging from $25 to $1,500.
New York and Pennsylvania also introduced related bills in 2016 that were meant to enforce clearing the vehicle, according to Romer.
Snow-covered cars head into the brand new State Route 99 tunnel, lit with amber-colored lights, on its first day of service during a winter storm Monday morning, Feb. 4, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
The trucking industry has raised concerns when this type of legislation includes commercial vehicles, stating that the clearing of snow and ice from the tops of trailers is very difficult and often unsafe, according to Romer.
Therefore, the industry has requested that states considering passing these types of laws should also consider providing equipment at truck rest areas, weigh stations and private truck stops. This type of equipment can be expensive.
When New Jersey enacted its law, law enforcement stated that they would not give tickets to drivers of snow-capped trucks who can demonstrate they are traveling to a snow-removal station.