Road Debris Accidents Often Caused by Improper Maintenance, Unsecured Loads: Study

Traffic safety experts indicate that more than 200,000 auto accidents were caused by roadway debris in the U.S. over a four year period, often as a result of improper maintenance, unsecured loads or other preventable and negligent actions. 

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety issued a report last week titled “The Prevalence of Motor Vehicle Crashes Involving Road Debris, United States, 2011-2014” (PDF), suggesting that many severe injuries and deaths in road debris accidents may be avoidable.

Researchers indicate that there were about 500 deaths and 39,000 injuries between 2011 to 2014 directly attributable to road debris causing an accident. More than a third of those accidents happened when a driver swerved to avoid hitting debris.

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The study also found that about two-thirds of crashes caused by roadway debris occurred when items fell off of a vehicle because it was unsecured or due to improper maintenance.

Common accident-causing debris from other vehicles included vehicle parts, such as tires; unsecured cargo, such as furniture and appliances; and tow trailers breaking free from their vehicles.

“This new report shows that road debris can be extremely dangerous but all of these crashes are preventable,” Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a press release on August 11. “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.”

AAA urges drivers to keep up on vehicle maintenance, particularly tires, to avoid blowouts or rusting exhaust systems falling off, and to properly secure vehicle loads. It also cautions drivers to drive defensively and to avoid tailgating other vehicles, which drastically decreases the time they have to respond if debris does fall off the vehicle in front of them.

It is currently illegal in every state to have an item fall off or from your vehicle while it is on the road, with fines ranging from $10 to $5,000, AAA reports. At least 16 states have laws that include possible jail sentences.

“Continually searching the road at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead can help drivers be prepared in the case of debris,” William Van Tassel, Manager of Driver Training Programs for AAA, said. “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.”

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