When Debris on the Road Causes Accidents
Unsecured cargo and other types of debris on the road often end up causing accidents, injuries, and deaths. Between 2011 and 2014, road debris accounted for approximately 39,000 injuries and over 500 fatalities.
Dangerous Road Debris
Recent reports from the Automobile Association of America (AAA) show that auto accidents caused by road debris are causing serious injuries and fatalities every year in the United States. Each year, more than 200,000 car accidents are caused by various types of road debris. Many accidents are caused by unsecured cargo loads that fall out of trucks, SUVs, and passenger car trunks onto to roads and freeways. AAA says that these types of accidents are completely preventable when drivers take the time to secure their cargo.
Road debris creates dangerous driving conditions, especially on busy roadways, freeways, and Interstates where cars are traveling at high speeds. According to reports, approximately 37 percent of all fatalities caused by road debris accidents result from a driver quickly swerving to avoid the debris. When this happens, most drivers lose control of their car and frequently crash into other cars, medians, guardrails, and other objects. This type of crash at speeds of 55-85 mph often result in catastrophic injuries and fatalities. Serious debris-related crashes are more frequent on Interstate highways and occur between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, a time when many trucks, delivery vans, furniture movers, and construction crews are performing their daily jobs. Unfortunately, this is the same time that thousands of unsuspecting drivers are on the road traveling to work, school, doctors’ appointments, childcare, and daily errands. Debris-related crashes are also high between the hours of 9 PM and 6:00 AM when many commercial trucks are transporting large cargo loads or making deliveries to distribution centers, but these crashes often result in only property damage since there are fewer cars on the road.
AAA reports show that at least 66 percent of car accidents caused by road debris are attributed to unsecured cargo loads and items falling from a vehicle due to improper maintenance. The most common types of vehicle debris include:
- Unsecured Cargo – Unsecured cargo includes a variety of items that often fall onto the roadway from moving vehicles. Common items include appliances, furniture, lumber, ladders and tools, paint cans, landscaping equipment, trees, branches and limbs, and construction equipment.
- Vehicle Parts – When vehicles are old or not maintained properly, parts can detach from the vehicle while it is moving. Road debris often includes detached vehicle wheels, tires, suspension systems, exhaust systems, gas tanks, and other parts that are loose or rusted out.
- Tow Trailers – Trucks and passenger cars that are towing large trailers, vehicles, boats, campers, and other items often have tow hitches that break or malfunction and separate from the front vehicle, dumping the trailer and large debris onto the roadway.
Preventing Accidents from Debris on the Road
According to AAA Traffic Safety Reports for 2014, there were approximately 202,631 debris-related car accidents across the country. These crashes resulted in 39,220 injuries and 501 deaths. Traffic officials state that most road debris-related car accidents are completely preventable if motorists take better precautions on the road.
Road debris-related accidents from unsecured cargo loads account for two-thirds of car crashes. By taking the time to properly secure cargo, drivers can prevent these types of accidents. When hauling cargo, drivers should do the following:
- Secure all cargo with straps, ropes or netting
- Secure large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer
- Cover cargo with sturdy netting or tarps
- Make sure all straps, ropes, netting or tarps are secured properly
- Do not overload the vehicle
To prevent loose or worn vehicle parts from falling onto the roadway, drivers should maintain their vehicles on a regular basis. Corroded exhaust systems, rusted-out mufflers, and loose parts often break away from vehicles and fall onto the road. Blowouts caused by worn, under-inflated, or over-inflated tires commonly leave large pieces of rubber scattered across the road. These types of debris-related car accidents can easily be prevented with regular maintenance by a trained mechanic.
Drivers have a responsibility to drive safely and prevent accidents and injuries, especially when hauling cargo or transporting items on roadways and Interstates. Every state has laws that make it illegal for items to fall from moving vehicles onto the roadway. Many states impose steep fines and penalties that range from $10 to $5,000 for drivers who drop items from their vehicles onto the roadway, and at least 16 states even impose jail time.
All states and traffic safety officials urge drivers to learn about state road debris laws and exercise safe, defensive driving practices when transporting cargo, as well as approaching debris on the road. Accidents, serious injuries, and deaths from road debris-related crashes can be prevented when drivers take proper responsibility.