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Should truckers be responsible if ice from their trailer top damages a vehicle?

BOWMANVILLE, Ont. - After weeks of balmy winter weather, cold temperatures have finally spread their way across Canada, dumping heaps of snow and ice over miles of highway and the vehicles that travel...





BOWMANVILLE, Ont. – After weeks of balmy winter weather, cold temperatures have finally spread their way across Canada, dumping heaps of snow and ice over miles of highway and the vehicles that travel them. And every year, you hear the same horror stories when massive sheets of ice from trailer tops come crashing down on the cars below. Many truckers say it’s simply too difficult or dangerous to try and knock the stuff off. Many motorists say they’re afraid to be around the big rigs at this time of year. So who should be responsible for damage from these frozen, flying ice hunks? Truck News stopped by the Fifth Wheel Truck Stop in Bowmanville, Ont. to find out who drivers feel should be liable when the insurance people – or police – come knocking.

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Bill Lawrence, a driver with Terry Beck Trucking in Ottawa, Ont., says there’s really not much a driver can do about the ice on trailer tops. The driver of five years says trucking companies can’t do much either, because once drivers are out on the road, they can’t do anything to help if it snows overnight, and most companies don’t condone drivers climbing up on top of the trailer anyway.

“No company is going to pay compensation if you’re trying to stand up on a 13.5-ft. ladder on the side of the road,” he says.

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Arnie Vaughan, a driver with SLH Transport in Bedford, N.S., says there should be a ramp available for drivers back at the terminal yard so they can safely remove ice and snow from the roof, or even for terminal employees to be responsible for cleaning trailer tops.

“It can really do some damage with the ice and snow flying off the roofs and coming down onto the windshields,” Vaughan says. “I, myself, have gotten up, even in my old age and cleaned them off, but if you’re at a terminal and you’re picking up a trailer during the wee hours of the night, how the hell are you going to get up there to clean it off?”

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Paul Korn, a driver with Harrow Truck Lines in Milton, Ont., says flying ice should absolutely be the driver’s responsibility, but notes that most drivers are forced to simply take their chances and hope other drivers stay out of the way.

“If I can see it (the ice) I’ll knock it off, (but) nine times out of 10, you can’t see it,” says the 37-year veteran. “So I’m like everyone else out there, I take my chance and hope for the best.”

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Rick Carlson, a driver with Finnerty Equipment in Caledon, Ont., has actually had a big chunk of ice fly off his trailer and hit someone’s windshield.

“I picked up a trailer that had been sitting for a while in Connecticut and a piece of ice came off and went through the guy’s windshield behind me. It literally took three-quarters of his windshield into his truck,” he recalls. In the end, the driver was okay and the company paid for the damages.

Immediately after the incident, which occurred some 15 years ago, Carlson got a ladder and shovel and chiselled off the two-inch thick sheet of ice.

“It’s real dangerous to be up on top of those trailers. They’re not built for you to walk on to start with and it’s just like walking on ice up there. It’s very risky to go up there, but after seeing what happened, I wanted to do something about it.”

But like the other drivers Truck News spoke with, Carlson is simply at the mercy of nature and hopes any rogue ice chunks land safely away from traffic.


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