Avoiding ice missiles

by Fin Livingston

“Ice missiles” may sound like a science fiction term, but for Canadian drivers they are real – and extremely dangerous. 

When snow isn’t removed from vehicle rooftops, freezing and thawing can turn snow into a solid ice block that threatens the drivers of vehicles driving behind them. This phenomenon can be disastrous on larger vehicles like semi-trailers, since they have significantly more surface area for snow and ice to accumulate and a higher launch point. Even if the rooftop snow isn’t frozen solid, it may blow off onto nearby motorists, disrupting the driver’s vision and potentially causing crashes. 

Simply put, ice and roads don’t mix favorably. 

To help protect the public from ice missiles on the roads, it’s imperative to remove snow from truck and trailer rooftops. 

It’s the law 

In some provinces, including Quebec and Ontario, there are laws in place or pending to prohibit vehicles from traveling with snow or ice on their rooftops. In Quebec, fines can be up to $200 for driving vehicles covered with snow, ice or any other matter that may detach from the vehicle and be hazardous for road users. In Ontario, Bill 183, which is under consideration by the Legislature, requires all vehicles remove potentially harmful snow or ice or face a fine up $1,000. 

Even in areas where specific snow laws don’t exist, all commercial transport vehicles are required to secure their loads while traveling on roadways. Snow and ice on top of a trailer can be considered unsecured and drivers can be fined. Similar laws exist in many states in the northern and western United States. 

Removing snow can be challenging 

Removing snow from trailer rooftops is often the responsibility of the driver. And while drivers want to obey laws and keep roads safe, removing snow from tall trailer rooftops can be dangerous. 

Manually removing snow from trailers that are four-plus metres tall requires snow brushes and rakes, as well as ladders. In wintry conditions, the possibility of slipping increases, as do injuries such as sprained or broken ankles and legs or separated shoulders.

Additionally, even the best snow brush and rake equipment still pulls snow downward near (or onto) the person clearing the snow. And the intense physical labour of manually removing snow for 30 minutes or longer can lead to cardiac events. 

Truck and trailer roof snow removal is tough on truck fleets as well. Injuries to drivers not only exacerbate the existing shortage of truck drivers and cause delivery delays, they may expose the employer to higher workers’ compensation claim costs. 

Safe and efficient snow removal

Fortunately, snow removal doesn’t have to be a manual ordeal fraught with injury risk. There’s a safer, more efficient way to remove snow from tall trailer rooftops: adjustable height plow assemblies that scrape snow off the tops of trucks/trailers when they pass under it. 

It’s a simple concept that provides substantial safety and efficiency benefits. Removing snow from truck and trailer roofs can help reduce the risk of ice missiles creating mayhem on our roadways. 

Different makes and models of snow removal machines allow fleet managers and yard managers to specify the right option. The most advanced versions can remove 0.6 metres of snow in less than 30 seconds, allowing a fleet of 50 vehicles to be completely cleaned off in an hour. 

These high-performing snow removal machines use a patented v-shaped plow blade, but various other configurations are available. It’s important to find a brand and model that is tough enough to remove heavy snow but won’t damage the rooftops of trailers. Systems should be CSA approved to ensure compliance with safety regulations. 

Some versions have an automated feature that requires an operator merely to push buttons for quick and easy snow removal. Certain snow removal machines are even portable, so they can be moved out of the way and stored during warmer seasons. 

Making roads safer 

Wintry Canadian roads are treacherous enough without ice missiles, and trucking industry professionals already have their hands full with a dizzying array of safety- and cost challenges. Fines, delivery delays and higher workers’ comp costs don’t need to be among them.

An investment in snow-scraping machines for truck fleets can help address all these issues, saving time and money while making Canada’s roads safer for all motorists. 


Fin Livingston is the general manager for Scraper Systems by Rite-Hite.