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SALT LAKE CITY — Road debris has been a significant factor in more than 200,000 crashes on U.S. roadways over the past several years, a new report stated.
According to a study released by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, road debris contributed to approximately 39,000 injuries and more than 500 fatalities from 2011 to 2014.
Researchers examined common characteristics of crashes involving road debris and discovered that almost 37 percent of all fatal crashes involving road debris resulted from a driver swerving to avoid striking an object. The report noted that overcorrecting at the last minute to avoid debris increases a driver’s risk of losing control.
More than one-third of crashes involving debris occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., a time when many motorists are hauling or moving heavy items like furniture or construction equipment, the report indicated. Debris-related crashes are much more likely to occur on freeways or highways where higher speeds raise the risk for vehicle parts to become detached or cargo to fall onto the roadway, AAA stated.
“These new reports show that road debris can be extremely dangerous, but also indicate that these crashes are preventable,” AAA Utah spokeswoman Rolayne Fairclough said. “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, Fairclough said. Crashes involving vehicle-related debris has increased 40 percent since 2001, when the foundation began studying the issue.
“Drivers have a much bigger responsibility when it comes to preventing debris on the roads than most realize,” Fairclough said. “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.”
Most penalties result in fines ranging from $10 to $5,000, with at least 16 states listing jail as a possible punishment for offenders, she added.
“Continually searching the road at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead can help drivers be prepared in the case of debris,” Fairclough 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.”