With six or more inches of snow forecasted for this week in Boston, people are stocking up on rock salt and shovels, windshield scrapers and washer fluid. If you have driven Massachusetts roads for at least one winter, you have likely seen a vehicle in front of you that is completely covered in snow, but for a face-sized spot on the front and rear windshields. Suddenly, a large sheet of snow and ice flies from the roof of that vehicle and hits your windshield.

If you are lucky, you’re startled for a couple of seconds before you are able to get the windshield wipers going and regain full control of your car. But, in some cases, this results in serious injury or wrongful death.

Just last week, a chunk of snow and ice flew off a box truck on Route 102 in New Hampshire, and smashed through a car windshield. A 22 year-old man suffered serious eye and facial injuries in the incident. The driver of the box truck stayed on scene, and will most likely face steep fines, or worse.

New Hampshire passed “Jessica’s Law” in 2002, following the wrongful death of 20 year-old Jessica Smith in 1999. A huge piece of ice flew from the roof of a tractor-trailer truck into the windshield of a truck traveling in the opposite direction. That driver lost control, and struck Jessica’s car, killing her.

New Hampshire law requires drivers to remove all snow or ice from their vehicles before driving on the road. Failure to comply can result in fines of $250 to $500 for a first offense. Penalties increase for repeat offenses, and can include loss of license.

Laws like this are found in other “snowbelt” states. In Pennsylvania, if snow or ice falls from a moving vehicle and causes serious bodily injury or death, the driver will be fined between $200 and $1,000. In Connecticut, drivers will be fined $75 if the snow/ice hits another vehicle without damage or injury, but up $1,000 if the incident does cause damage or injury.

While Massachusetts does not yet have a “Jessica’s Law”, a driver who fails to properly clean a vehicle may be cited and fined under M.G.L. c. 90, §13, the impeded operation statute. Fines for violations start at $40. A driver can also be cited under M.G.L. c. 85, §36 for “operating a vehicle with an unsecured load” if caught driving with snow on their vehicles. A violation can cost a driver up to $200.

In addition to fines and criminal citations, Massachusetts drivers may also face significant civil liability for this. Regardless of whether a driver was cited, a jury would likely find negligence – or even recklessness – where laziness in failing to clean the snow and ice from their vehicle hurts someone. Juries take injury or wrongful death to another quite seriously.

As the unpredictable New England winter gets underway, make certain that you clean the snow and ice from your vehicle before getting on the road. If you know it’s going to snow overnight, set your alarm for a half an hour earlier, and clean your vehicle. Your efforts will prevent accidents and save money, and possibly even lives.

If you or a family member has been injured or killed by a driver’s failure to remove snow and ice from a vehicle prior to entering a public way, you should contact an attorney. SUGARMAN has experience in cases like this and can help. Please fill out a Contact Form, call us at (617) 542-1000 or e-mail info@sugarman.com.