Debris Crashes Killed 500 Motorists in Four Years, Report Shows

CARS.COM — On July 20, a 23-year-old Northern California woman was killed when debris fell out of a semitrailer she was following and struck her car, sending her careening across the roadway and off the shoulder, The Press Democrat of Santa Rosa reported. Stories like these are tragically common — but also preventable. A new report by roadside-services provider AAA reveals the scope of debris danger on U.S. highways, and prescribes measures to mitigate it.

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Roughly two-thirds of debris-related crashes occur when items fall from a vehicle due to improper maintenance and unsecured loads, most commonly vehicle parts becoming detached, loose cargo falling into the roadway or trailers becoming separated from the towing vehicle. According to the study, more than 200,000 crashes occurred from 2011 through 2014 as a result of debris, causing 500 deaths and 39,000 injuries.

"Nearly 37 percent of all deaths in road debris crashes resulted from the driver swerving to avoid hitting an object," AAA said in a statement. "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."

Researchers noted that a third of debris crashes happen between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., typically on highways and at high speeds that increase the risk of vehicle parts or cargo coming loose.

Every state has laws against items falling from a vehicle on the roadway, with fines ranging from $10 to $5,000; about a third of states impose jail time, the study states. AAA recommends the following tips to avoid causing a debris crash:

  • Keep your vehicle properly maintained by having it regularly checked by a mechanic; worn or underinflated tires can result in blowouts that leave tire debris on the road, while exhaust systems and related hardware can corrode, causing mufflers and other parts to drag and eventually break loose.
  • Make sure loads are properly secured by tying items down with ropes, netting or straps, directly to the vehicle or trailer; covering the entire load with a sturdy tarp; and always double-checking.
  • Never overload the vehicle.

For drivers trying to avoid a debris crash caused by someone else, AAA recommends:

  • Continually searching the road 12 to 15 seconds ahead to be prepared for debris.
  • Maintaining open space on at least one side of the vehicle in case you need to steer around an object.
  • Avoiding tailgating the vehicle in front of you.
  • Reducing speed as much as possible before striking debris if you are unable to avoid it.
 
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