Study shows increasing risk on U.S. roads from Road Debris


By Kevin Adams

Road debris is a bigger obstacle than ever to the safety of U.S. drivers. Thankfully, a few simple steps can reduce the amount of dangerous debris on roadways and help prevent crashes.

According to a new study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than 200,000 crashes were caused by debris on U.S. roadways from 2011 to 2014, resulting in approximately 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths.

About two-thirds of debris-related crashes are caused by items falling from vehicles due to improper maintenance and unsecured loads. Examples include car parts such as tires or mufflers, unsecured cargo such as furniture and appliances and tow trailers becoming separated.

The number of crashes involving vehicle-related debris was approximately 40 percent greater than when the foundation last examined the issue in 2001, according to Research Director Jurek Grabowski.

“This new report shows that road debris is extremely dangerous, but most crashes are preventable,” he said. “Drivers can easily save lives by securing their loads and taking other simple precautions to prevent items from falling off their vehicles.”

The report revealed several common characteristics of crashes involving road debris and found that:

  • Roughly 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 the vehicle and make a bad situation worse.
  • More than one in three debris-related crashes occur during the day between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Crashes involving debris are much more likely to occur on interstate highways because driving at high speeds increases the risk of cargo falling off or vehicle parts becoming detached.

What Drivers Can Do

To decrease the chances of being involved in a road-debris crash, motorists should maintain a safe speed and perform these simple measures:

  • Maintain your vehicle: Badly worn or underinflated tires can suffer blowouts that can leave tire treads on the roadway. Exhaust systems and other hardware can rust and corrode, causing mufflers and other parts to break loose. These potential problems can easily be spotted by trained mechanics during routine maintenance such as oil changes.
  • Secure your load: When moving or towing furniture or appliances, make sure all items are properly secured.
    • Tie down the load with rope, netting or straps and secure 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 the load to make sure it is secure.
  • Practice defensive driving: Drivers should avoid tailgating and continually scan the road ahead for debris. If you see you are about to make contact with debris, safely reduce your speed as much as possible prior to making contact.

“Drivers have a much bigger responsibility when it comes to preventing debris on the roads than most realize,” said AAA State Relations Director Jennifer Ryan. Many states have hefty fines and penalties for drivers who drop items from their vehicles onto the roadway, and in some cases that includes jail time.”

AAA encourages drivers to learn about road debris laws in their states and practice defensive driving to prevent debris-related crashes. For defensive-driving tips and information on how to report road debris,