From 2011 through 2014, more than 200,000 crashes involving debris on U.S. roadways occurred, according to a new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
The crashes resulted in 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths. As a result, AAA is urging drivers to properly secure their loads to prevent dangerous debris.
AAA researchers examined common characteristics of crashes involving road debris and found that:
- Nearly 37% of all deaths in road debris crashes resulted from the driver swerving to avoid hitting an object. Overcorrecting at the last moment 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 debris-related crashes occur between 10 a.m. and 3:59 p.m., a time when many people are on the road hauling or moving heavy items such as 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.
“This new report shows that road debris can be extremely dangerous but all of 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.”
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 detached from a vehicle (tires, wheels, etc.) that fall onto the roadway
- Unsecured cargo such as furniture, appliances, and other items falling onto the roadway
- Tow trailers becoming separated and hitting another vehicle or landing on the roadway.
According to AAA, drivers can decrease their chances of being involved in a road debris crash by:
Maintaining their 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 attach 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, make sure all items are secured. To properly secure a load, drivers should:
- Tie down the load with rope, netting, or straps
- Tie large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer
- Cover the entire load with a sturdy tarp or netting
- Ensure the vehicle isn’t overloaded
- Double-check the load to make sure it’s secure.
"Drivers have a much bigger responsibility when it comes to preventing debris on the roads than most realize,” said Jennifer Ryan, director of state relations for AAA. “It’s important for drivers to know that many states have hefty fines and penalties for drivers who drop items from their vehicle onto the roadway, and in some cases states impose jail time.”
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.
To learn more about specific road debris laws for noncommercial vehicles, click here.
Drivers should also practice defensive driving techniques while on the road to prevent debris-related crashes from occurring, AAA advises.
“Continually searching the road at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead can help drivers be prepared in the case of debris,” said William Van Tassel, manager of driver training programs for AAA. “Always 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.”
AAA also recommends that drivers avoid tailgating and remain alert while on the road.