Shredded tires. Unsecured loads. Runaway trailers. Road debris is a more significant danger than you might think. It causes about 50,000 crashes a year, including thousands of injuries and more than 100 fatalities.
It is not always possible to avoid road debris when it pops up suddenly in your lane. But drivers can limit the danger by driving defensively and by taking basic safety precautions when transporting items. In the event an accident, drivers who created road hazards can be held liable.
Road debris causes thousands of accidents
A study by AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that roadway debris caused more than 200,000 crashes over a four-year period from 2011 to 2014. Some 39,000 people were injured and 500 people died in those accidents. There are four basic scenarios involving road debris:
- The debris hits the windshield and injures the driver or passenger.
- The car strikes the obstacle, causing the vehicle to veer off the road and crash.
- The driver swerves abruptly or loses control, leading to a collision or rollover.
- The driver brakes hard or swerves into the next lane, causing a chain-reaction crash.
Driving defensively: be alert and proactive
We’ve all seen the guy transporting his Home Depot purchase strapped precariously to the roof of his hatchback. The handyman with the ladder bouncing up and down or loose branches in the bed of his pickup. The weekend warrior pulling a sketchy boat trailer. The college kid hauling a load of furniture and clothes baskets.
Do not travel behind vehicles with unsecured loads. Avoid following or driving next to commercial trucks in general, especially if they look poorly maintained. Avoid following boats and other trailers. In addition to the danger of debris, these vehicles also obstruct your vision.
If you are following a truck, pickup or trailer, keep a safe distance. About one-third of road debris accidents happen on the freeway. At that speed, there is little time to react if something falls loose.
Keep your hands on the wheel. Scan the road ahead every 10 to 15 seconds. Avoid cellphones and other distractions while driving.
Secure your load, people!
Many fatalies and injury crashes can be avoided through common sense and due diligence. Make sure that tarps and doors are firmly secured. Use a combination of tiedown scraps, ropes and bungee cords (but not if they are frayed). Make sure that lightweight items are firmly secured – the tremendous lift created by air flowing over the vehicle at highway speed can send even furniture airborne. Trailers should be secured with not just a hitch but chains or cotter pins. Trailers must also have brake lights and turn signals connected.
In Maryland, drivers are subject to $500 fines for creating road debris, including rusted mufflers, blown tires, or unsecured items that fall from their vehicles. If that debris causes an accident and the driver is identified, that driver can be liable in a personal injury lawsuit.