About two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of items falling from a vehicle due to improper maintenance and unsecured loads. Photo by Metro Creative Graphics

Study shows that more than 200,000 crashes are caused by road debris

More than 200,000 crashes involved debris on U.S. roadways during the past four years, according to a 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.

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.

“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 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:

  1. 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.

Tie down 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

Don’t overload the vehicle

Always double check load to make sure a load is 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. 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.

“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. Additional tips on defensive driving and how to report road debris to the proper authorities are available online at AAA.com/PreventRoadDebris.