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Ice Rage: Cooper Authors Bill to Keep Drivers Safe from Preventable Winter Weather Hazards

A victim of ice rage

The office of Legislator Jon Cooper issued this release:

HUNTINGTON, NY—We’ve all had it happen to us. After a winter storm, you take the time to clear all the snow and ice off your car. But you’re driving and suddenly—BAM! Your windshield gets shelled with a blinding blanket of snow (or worse a massive sheet of flying ice) from the car in front of you because that driver chose not take the same precautions you did.

Now, a week after the first major snowstorm of the season blanketed Long Island, Suffolk County Legislative Majority Leader Jon Cooper (D-Lloyd Harbor) has authored a bill to keep drivers safe from these preventable winter weather hazards by requiring motorists to clean accumulated snow and ice off their vehicles.

Cooper’s bill creates a two-tiered enforcement mechanism. Preemptively, if law officers (Suffolk County police and deputy sheriffs) witness a person driving their vehicle without first removing the snow or ice accumulation, officers could stop the motorist and issue a $75 fine. If a driver did not properly clear their vehicle and the dislodged snow or ice causes personal injury or property damage, the driver could face fines between $200 and $1,500. These fines would be in addition to any other unsafe driving penalties that are already enforced.

Cooper’s proposed law also has dual fine structures for different classes of vehicles. Non-commercial vehicle operators would face fines between $200 and $1,000. Recognizing that large commercial trucks can carry massive amounts of snow and ice on top of their trailers, operators of these vehicles would face fines starting at $500 and going up to $1,500.

While there are no statistics compiled on how many accidents are caused annually by dislodged ice and snow, the special dangers posed by trucks shedding frozen precipitation are supported by a 2008 study conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (a not-for-profit group that is part of the American Trucking Associations Federation). It found that the deadliest accidents caused by airborne ice involved larger vehicles, notably trucks.

Last year, an Illinois man (see photo above) suffered severe facial trauma when a large block of ice flew off the top of a semitrailer, torpedoing into his windshield, sending shards of shattering glass exploding into his face. The incident left his nose broken in several pieces and required a two-hour surgery to be reconstructed. The bone section below his left eye socket was also was shattered. The worst part is that the truck’s operator just continued driving.

“Our roadways are shared spaces where the best way to ensure your safety is to be careful and considerate of other drivers,” says Cooper. “The accidents and injuries that result from flying snow and ice are totally avoidable if more people would just take the proper precautions. But if they don’t, my bill will make sure these drivers are held accountable for their selfish and dangerous behavior.”

Cooper’s proposal is careful to account for how rapidly winter weather storms can develop. So it rightly exempts drivers who are already on the road during a storm when ice and/or snow accumulate on their vehicles. It also does not apply to parked or stranded vehicles that have snow or ice on them.

If adopted, it will be the first bill of its kind in New York State. New Jersey and Connecticut already have similar “flying ice” laws on the books, but the Nutmeg State’s law doesn’t go into effect until 2013.

Cooper believes this is the right time of year for his colleagues to adopt this measure. By introducing the bill during the dead of winter, Cooper hopes it will save lives by bringing to the forefront how dangerous these accidents can be and how avoidable they are.

Cooper advises motorists to take the proper safety precautions, and always have on hand the necessary tools, brushes and scrapers to ensure that their cars are fully cleared of ice and snow.

“It always amazes me when I see someone driving with snow or ice on the hood and roof of their car,” says Cooper. “All it takes is a few extra minutes to properly prepare our cars for winter weather driving and then we can all be safe.”

Cooper’s bill has been assigned to the Public Safety Committee and will have a public hearing at 2:30 pm at the February 1st General Meeting at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge.

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