Imagine you are traveling down the interstate, perhaps making your daily drive to work or taking a longer journey to visit family. Ahead of you is a semi-truck. As the truck approaches the underpass just ahead of you, you wonder if it meets the clearance requirements painted on the concrete. You slow down, but not enough. The truck slides under the underpass, throwing from its top debris and patches of frozen ice. The chunks of ice fall from the back of the semi-truck, cascading toward you and creating an instant road hazard as they strike the road in front of you. You swerve. Maybe you have an accident. If you do, you may be tempted to say that it was a freak accident. A recent American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) study concludes that there is virtually no empirical data available on related injury, property damage, or the number of citations given by law enforcement because of falling ice. But this danger is more common than you might think.
Ice sheets form on the top of semi-trucks when the trucks are pulled out of warehouses and melted snow meets cold outdoor temperatures, creating ice. Sometimes, ice can form during driving if there is precipitation. But the problem is not limited to just the winter time – debris such as concrete has also been reported to have been thrust off a truck’s top when it clears an underpass.
The Chicago Daily Herald has reported on the problem and located three cases just like the one described above. The Herald provides details of Tim Giometti’s accident, which happened when a truck clipped a 14-foot tall bridge and dislodged ice that had accumulated on the top of the truck. The ice smashed into Giometti’s hood and windshield, causing nearly $11,000 worth of damage to his Honda CR-V. Pete Morano, another Chicago-area resident suffered broken bones in his eye and nose after a similar accident. His injuries are startlingly serious, bringing the seriousness of the problem to the forefront. "The sheet of ice hit directly on the windshield, broke the windshield and sprayed the glass into my face," said Morano. He is waiting to see if the vision in his eye will return, or be utterly lost. Morano required extensive surgery after the accident, and said he lost so much blood that he was afraid he might bleed to death. The driver of the truck whose debris and ice fell on Morano’s car didn’t even stop to help.
No laws in Illinois require motorists to clean snow or ice off their trucks or cars – not even for commercial truckers. And more than half of all truckers don’t clear ice and snow from the tops of their trailers. Some have suggested that trucking companies enact new rules that require drivers to clean the tops of their trucks before hitting the roads. But during the winter months, this could require truckers to climb onto the top of their trucks, which are often covered with snow and ice. A less dangerous option might be to install “scraping mechanisms” that trucks can drive under at truck stops and gas stations, having the same effect of pushing the ice and debris off of the truck as it passes by – but without creating injured victims like Giometti and Morano. However, this may not solve the problem of ice and snow that accumulates in between stops. The trucking industry agrees that accumulated snow and ice are a problem, but the lack of available and affordable removal devices leads many to shrug and call the problem “impossible.” But that may not be the case. Last year, then- New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine signed a law that sets fines for vehicles with dangerous accumulations of snow. The law is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.