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Jessica’s Law: Dangers from Snow & Ice Buildup on Vehicles

Do New Hampshire police really stop drivers who don’t clear snow off the roof of their cars?

Jessica's Law: Snow Hazard
Jessica’s Law: Clear Snow Off Vehicles

During one snowstorm in November, 2018 New Hampshire Police handed out 56 traffic tickets to drivers failing to clear snow off their vehicles.

On January 31, 2019, news reports indicate New Hampshire State Police “made contact with” 55 motorists. The police reminded drivers to clear snow off their car after the previous day’s snowstorm.  Police call it “enhanced enforcement” and don’t always issue citations.  Law enforcement sometimes feels that a warning may be an effective tool.  Stopping motorists and reminding them the law requires fully clearing snow off a vehicles might work in the long run.

In Gilford, NH, home to a popular ski resort, police issued 15 warnings over a three month period.  Between November 1, 2018 and February 1, 2019 Gilford Police records show only one summons for that purpose.

What is Jessica’s Law?

These police accounts typify multitudes of traffic stops in New Hampshire in winter months under what’s known as Jessica’s Law. Passed in 2002 the statute outlaws driving on New Hampshire roads before first clearing all snow and ice off any vehicle.

The law takes its name from 20-year-old Jessica Smith who was killed when ice broke off a moving truck, striking a second truck, which then careened into Smith’s vehicle, killing her. Under the law New Hampshire police stop vehicles with snow or ice buildup.  The law enables officers to fine motorists between $250 and $500 for a first offense, $500 to $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

Think about it. You’re driving on any busy highway and a van, truck or bus in front of you suddenly sheds a sheet of ice off the roof.  The ice flies up in the air then crashes down.  If you’re lucky it strikes the pavement and not you.  Serious accidents happen as a result of ice flying off the roofs of vehicles.  Heavy ice slamming back on another vehicle can cause catastrophic injuries.

Rooftop Snow & Ice Accidents

Despite existence of the law some drivers neglect to remove snow and ice from their vehicles. In one February 2019 crash a sheet of ice flew off the roof of a manufactured home being flat bedded down the highway.  In the Bristol, NH accident on Route 104 the ice slammed onto the hood of a car going in the opposite direction.  Injuries could have been catastrophic but fortunately in this instance heavy ices severely damaged the car but there was no injury.

In another winter 2019 accident ice flew off the top of a moving box truck, slamming into a driver and employee of the NH Department of Transportation.  According to the DOT’s report pieces of ice peeled off the top of the box truck.  Ice bashed through the windshield of the DOT vehicle striking the operator in the head.  Taken away by ambulance that driver suffered a head laceration and other injuries.

Remembrances of young Jessica Smith fill the headlines annually. At the same time forgetful motorists hit the highways failing to comply with the law named after Ms. Smith.

So, answering the question, police do stop drivers for not fully clearing snow and ice off their vehicles before hitting the road.

Enforcement of Snow Clearing Laws

In Massachusetts no specific law clearly directs drivers to remove snow and ice before heading out onto the highways. However other penalties exist.  Improper removal of debris on a vehicle earns a $35 citation, and snow or ice debris  are considered debris.  Under a different motor vehicle violation Massachusetts officers hand out $200 fines where it’s determined an unsecured load, such as snow endangers other drivers.

Civil Liability for Failing to Clear Snow & Ice

Those causing car accidents for failure to clear snow and ice from a vehicle face liability in civil actions. Snow and ice flying off a vehicle endangers other drivers.  That’s why lawmakers passed such laws.  At the same time, civil courts hold drivers liable where their negligence causes accidents and injuries.  The bottom line warns drivers that if pieces of snow or hardened ice fly off a vehicle, causing an accident, the driver can end up in court, or an insurance claim, forced to pay damages to the injured operator.

For more on winter driving accidents click here.

Our office handles personal injury claims including car accident injuries during all four seasons of the year. Unfortunately winter hazards increase the chances of an accident especially where careless or negligent drivers fail to heed the need to take precautions.  If you are injured in an accident through no fault of your own contact us and let us help you through the maze created by the insurance companies.


Here’s Why NH Police Enforce Jessica’s Law: Clear the Snow, by Dempsey, Geoff, Patch.com, and Jan. 31, 2019.

Jessica’s Law Taken Seriously by Local Police, Laconia Sun, Feb. 5, 2019.

State Police Issue Tickets for Those with Snow, Ice on Cars for Violating Jessica’s Law, WMUR TV, Nov. 18, 2018.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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