Most people who have driven during New England winters have had the following experience: as you drive along the highway in the days following a snowstorm, you spot a driver in front of you who has cleared the snow and ice from a face-sized spot on the front and rear windshields - the rest of the vehicle is covered in a foot of snow. Then, before you are able to avoid it, a large sheet of snow and ice flies from the roof of that vehicle and hits your windshield. Fortunately, the usual effect is a few startled seconds before you are able to get the windshield wipers going and regain full control of your car. However, failing to thoroughly clean the snow and ice off your vehicle can be extremely dangerous and have multiple consequences.
Unfortunately, Massachusetts has not yet passed legislation that specifically prohibits the operation of a motor vehicle with an accumulation of snow and ice. In addition to potential civil liability however, a driver who fails to properly clean his or her vehicle may be cited and fined under the impeded operation statute. M.G.L. c. 90, §13 provides that "No person, when operating a motor vehicle, shall permit to be on or in the vehicle or on or about his person anything which may interfere with or impede the proper operation of the vehicle or any equipment by which the vehicle is operator or controlled." http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90/Section13.
Violations carry no criminal penalties, but fines range from $35 for a first offense to $150 for the third offense.
A driver may also face civil liability for failing to clean the snow and ice from their vehicle if the snow or ice accumulation causes an accident that injures or kills someone. While a citation under M.G.L. c. 90, §13 in such an accident would most likely be admissible as some evidence of negligence, even without a citation, a jury would likely find negligence - or even recklessness - where a person's laziness in cleaning the snow and ice from their vehicle causes injury or death to another.
Several states have enacted laws specifically prohibiting people from driving a vehicle with more than a small amount of snow and ice accumulation. These states include Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, whose laws were both enacted following deaths caused by snow and ice accumulation on vehicles. Both laws impose fines of up to $1,000 for violations which cause injury or property damage to another. New Jersey's snow and ice removal law, enacted in 2010, imposes fines of $25-$75 for benign violations, and $200-$1,000 fines for violations resulting in injury or property damage. Commercial vehicle drivers face higher fines. Massachusetts legislators have introduced a similar bill on
several occasions, but it has yet to become law.
As the unpredictable New England winter gets underway, make certain that you are thoroughly cleaning the snow and ice from your vehicle before getting on the road. While you may grumble at getting up a half an hour earlier and trudging out into the cold, your efforts will prevent accidents and save money, and even lives.
If you are injured by a driver's failure to remove snow and ice from a vehicle prior to entering a public way, you may be entitled to compensation. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.