More than 200,000 crashes involved debris on U.S. roadways during the past four years, according to a new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Road debris has resulted in approximately 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths between 2011 and 2014. AAA is calling for drivers to properly secure their loads to prevent dangerous debris. Crashes involving vehicle related-debris increased 40 percent since 2001, when the Foundation first studied the issue.
AAA researchers examined common characteristics of crashes involving road debris and found that:
• Nearly 37 percent of all deaths in road debris crashes resulted from the driver swerving to avoid hitting an object. Overcorrecting at the last minute to avoid debris can increase a driver’s risk of losing control of their vehicle and make a bad situation worse.
• More than one in three crashes involving debris occur between 10 a.m. and 3:59 p.m., a time when many people are on the road hauling or moving heavy items like furniture or construction equipment.
• Debris-related crashes are much more likely to occur on interstate highways. Driving at high speeds increases the risk for vehicle parts to become detached or cargo to fall onto the roadway.
“Drivers have more of a significant responsibility when it comes to preventing debris on the roads than most realize,” said Anita Lorz Villagrana, the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Community Programs and Traffic Safety. “It’s important for drivers to know that many states, including California, have severe fines and penalties for drivers who drop items from their vehicles onto the roadway, and in some cases states impose jail time.”
The AAA Foundation study determined that in California between 2011 and 2014, there were a total of about 45 fatal crashes resulting in 47 deaths that involved road debris between 2011 and 2014.
“The California Highway Patrol urges every driver to be responsible in securing all items being transported, especially when transporting items in an uncovered pick-up truck for example,” said José Nunez, CHP Public Information & Media Relations Coordinator. “It is imperative that all drivers operate their vehicles with caution, maintain high visibility, and report any unsafe load or spilled load immediately. We all share these roadways and expect to arrive safely at our destinations. Let’s keep it clean out there!”
The end of the month when individuals are moving from residence to residence tends to be a prime time for littering freeways with furniture that have fallen off trucks.
And Caltrans statewide spent more than $76 million last year on litter removal, collecting enough trash and debris from freeways to fill more than 9,500 garbage trucks.
“Obviously, this is not the best use of valuable tax dollars and state resources that could go to projects to help maintain and enhance our transportation system,” said District 7 Director Carrie Bowen. “When Caltrans sweepers, trucks, and maintenance workers have to clear litter from the freeway, the chances for severe or fatal injuries increase for motorists and Caltrans employees.”
“Continually searching the road at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead can help drivers be prepared for encountering debris,” said Lorz Villagrana. “Try to maintain open space on at least one side of your vehicle in case you need to steer around an object. If you see you are unable to avoid debris on the roadway, safely reduce your speed as much as possible before making contact.”
About two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of items falling from a vehicle due to improper maintenance and unsecured loads. The most common types of vehicle debris are:
• Parts becoming detached from a vehicle (tires, wheels, etc.) and falling onto the roadway
• Unsecured cargo like furniture, appliances and other items falling onto the roadway
• Tow trailers becoming separated and hitting another vehicle or landing on the roadway
Drivers can decrease their chances of being involved in a road debris crash by:
• Maintaining Vehicles - Drivers should have their vehicles checked regularly by trained mechanics. Badly worn or underinflated tires often suffer blowouts that can leave pieces of tire on the roadway. Exhaust systems and the hardware that attaches to the vehicle can also rust and corrode, causing mufflers and other parts to drag and eventually break loose. Potential tire and exhaust system problems can easily be spotted by trained mechanics as part of the routine maintenance performed during every oil change.
• Securing Vehicle Loads - When moving or towing furniture, it is important to make sure all items are secured. To properly secure a load, drivers should:
1. Tie down load with rope, netting or straps
2. Tie large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer
3. Cover the entire load with a sturdy tarp or netting
4. Not overload the vehicle
5. Always double-check to make sure a load is secure
“The new report shows that road debris can be extremely dangerous but these crashes are preventable,” said Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Drivers can easily save lives and prevent injuries by securing their loads and taking other simple precautions to prevent items from falling off the vehicle.”
Currently, every state has laws that make it illegal for items to fall from a vehicle while on the road. Most states’ penalties result in fines ranging from $10-$5,000, with at least 16 states listing jail as a possible punishment for offenders. AAA encourages drivers to educate themselves about specific road debris laws in their state. Drivers should also practice defensive driving techniques while on the road to prevent debris-related crashes from occurring.
AAA also recommends that drivers avoid tailgating and remain alert while on the road. Additional tips on defensive driving and how to report road debris to the proper authorities are available online at AAA.com/PreventRoadDebris.