We had another massive snowstorm hit Long Island, dropping 16 inches in my town of Huntington. I suppose this is more of what Thomas Friedman calls “global weirding”: the warmest year on record followed by a winter of tremendous snowstorms. When I reached my car this morning, I found it covered in snow. It took me nearly fifteen minutes to clear my car, including the pile of snow on the roof.
People have become more aware of clearing snow from the roofs of their vehicles in recent years. If you drive with snow on your car, you can put yourself and other drivers at risk. The snow and ice can blow off and obscure your vision or blind another driver. I had a friend who suffered a terrible injury that required plastic surgery in an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike a few years back caused by snow and ice blowing from the roof of a tractor-trailer. The ice shattered the windshield of her car and caused her to crash. She was lucky to live.
We can all agree that one should clear the snow and ice off one’s car or truck before heading out onto the roads. It is the thing to do for safety and courtesy. Failing to do so does raise some legal issues.
Failure to Clear Ice and Snow from a Vehicle Could Be Construed as Negligence
If you fail to clear the ice and snow off your car and it blows off onto another car causing an accident, you could be held liable for the damages the other driver suffers. Why? Because failing to clear the ice and snow could be viewed as a negligent act and if your negligence causes damages to another, you can be held liable to compensate the injured party for those damages. Clearing the snow and ice from your car is a reasonable and prudent act and failing to do so could constitute negligence.
Likewise, if you suffer damages in an accident caused by snow or ice blowing off another vehicle, you may be entitled to compensation for your damages.
Laws Requiring Drivers to Clear Snow and Ice Off Their Cars and Trucks
Five states, including Connecticut and New Jersey, currently have laws on the books requiring drivers to clear snow and ice off their cars and trucks. Failing to do so can lead to a police officer pulling over the car and can result in a ticket. In Suffolk County on Long Island, County Legislator Jon Cooper (who happens to be my County Legislator) has introduced a bill that would impose fines starting at $75 for failure to clear snow and ice off a vehicle. (Read about it here.)
The introduction of such a bill raises a question: is it appropriate and necessary for laws to enforce what many view as common sense? After all, if it is plain to most that they should clear the ice and snow off their chars, why do we need a new law? Is that an example of government overreaching and interfering in every aspect of our lives?
In this instance, I think we do need a law, though I would prefer statewide legislation so that we do not have a hodgepodge of county laws. It appears clear that failing to clear snow and ice off cars and trucks creates a threat to public safety. By creating a law, our elected officials drive home the idea that this is a serious issue and people need to pay attention. It also enables police officers to pull over drivers and force them to remove a hazard from their cars. Police officers can use discretion in giving out tickets, as they do with other moving violations, but a law gives them the power to protect the public from the potentially negligent act of certain drivers. These benefits make laws to remove snow and ice from vehicles beneficial to all of us. So kudos to County Legislator Jon Cooper for addressing an issue that will help us all. Now if only legislators in Albany will follow suit – as they did with Jon’s hands-free calling legislation – then we can have statewide protection from this potential hazard.
I hope you have found this information helpful. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. If you have questions about a potential auto accident case, you should consult an experienced personal injury lawyer in New York. I will be glad to answer your questions and assist you. There is never a charge for this consultation. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts.
Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney
This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney.