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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.

5 Comments

  1. In Minnesota the littering law will cover this , but it still is a small penalty. There has been a couple of exchanges about this issue and it's interesting how split the truckers that comment are as to what can be done. Important issue to keep talking about.

  2. Gravatar for Richard

    Happened to me on 2.1.10 in Knoxville TN. Luckily, the chunk that penetrated my windshield landed in the passenger seat. The windshield stayed in place, I didn't lose control, and was able to chase the driver down. He had no idea it was happening, but it really wasn't his fault because he had just rented the truck minutes before this happened. The rental agency did not remove the ice as they should have. I am very fortunate to have escaped injury, it could've have been a tragedy...and the driver of the truck would have never known what happened. I am in favor of legislation that enforces removal of snow, ice, etc from vehicles.

  3. Gravatar for Terry Cortinaz

    I am an owner/operator of my own truck, and while I agree that snow and ice build-up on trailers can be an issue, I also am very aware that motorists follow trucks extremely close, despite the weather conditions. Much of this can be avoided by simply allowing the distance that SHOULD be practiced, and you would not be struck by debris. Last year I had to replace the windshield in my truck twice because of passenger vehicles who ALSO did not clean the ice from the top of their vehicle, passed me on the interstate, cut me off and threw debris from their vehicle into my windshield....it is not ONLY a commercial vehicle problem...it is a problem for everyone.

  4. Gravatar for Tammy

    Imagine you are driving down the interstate, perhaps making your trip down I-294 through Illinois to deliver a load, in the left lane are many passenger vehicles travelling at a high rate of speed, generally 15-25 mph over the posted speed limit. Those same passenger vehicles see their exit coming up soon, promptly change lanes in front of your truck, slam on the breaks and continue to move right to make the exit, no turn signal involved whatsoever. Now imagine pulling 40,000 pounds in your trailer, travelling down snow and ice covered roads, and attempting to slow your truck with no warning to avoid collision with the passenger vehicle who just cut you off. This happens on a daily basis in Illinois and apparently there is no legislation out there that protects the right of the truck driver who is simply out there doing his job, atempting to abide by the safe travel distance rules. In my opinion, as well as many other drivers, the conditions in which we are forced to travel on Illinois highways is made dangerous due to the passenger vehicle traffic that have no respect whatsoever for commercial vehicles, or other passenger vehicles travelling the highways on a daily basis. I see nothing being done about passenger vehicles following trucks so closely that the driver cannot see the passenger vehicle in his/her mirrors and is not even aware that they are behind them until such time that the driver screams out to the left passing lane to get around the truck, because they are able to travel at a faster rate of speed, then promptly pull back in to that "safe" space that the truck driver left between his/her truck and the car in front of them, because they can, thus cutting down that safe distance travel to NOTHING. Who protects the rights of the trucker just out there doing their job?

  5. Gravatar for Barry Doyle

    Terry and Tammy:

    Thanks for reading and the comments.

    You make fair points about the number of drivers in Illinois who don't do a good job sharing the road with trucks. I am with you on that (and probably guilty of it once in a while).

    I disagree that the blame for these types of accidents (ice coming off trailers) is the fault of the drivers following too closely. A couple of points:

    1. The idea of safe following distance incorporates the idea that the vehicle you are beind cannot stop on a dime, so as you are both continuing to travel in the same direction, and having a safe following distance allows you to close that gap when the car ahead slows without driving into his trunk. When a chunk of ice comes off a trailer, the physics are a bit different, and the safe following distance does not provide teh same safe cushion that it does in the conventional setting. Basically, the ice either comes straight down or goes backward.

    2. The size of the ice chunk that comes off a trailer is likely much larger than off a passenger vehicle, so you are talking about a greater hazard.

    3. It is not acceptable to have part of your load come off your trailer and hit another car on the road, so why is acceptable to have ice come off your trailer?

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