When The Eagles sang about “a-runnin’ down the road” and “tryin’ to loosen my load” in their 1972 hit, Take It Easy, they should know it isn’t a good idea to drive with an unsecured load in your pickup or car.
That’s because road debris is a factor in more than 200,000 police-reported crashes and has resulted in about 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths between 2011 and 2014, according to a new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study.
According to the study, about two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of items falling from a vehicle because of improper maintenance and unsecured loads. And since 2001, when the Foundation first issued its study, crashes involving vehicle-related debris have increased 40%.
- The most common types of debris that fall onto the roadway from vehicles are:
- Parts, such as tires, wheels or hubcaps that become detached from the vehicle;
- Unsecured cargo such as furniture, appliances and other items; and
- Tow trailers that become separated and either hit another vehicle or lands on the roadway.
“Road debris is extremely dangerous; and crashes that result could be prevented if loads were secured and simple precautions practiced,” said Fran Mayko, AAA Northeast’s public affairs specialist.
AAA researchers examined common crash characteristics involving road debris and found that:
- Nearly 37% of all deaths in road debris crashes resulted from drivers swerving to avoid hitting an object. Overcorrecting at the last minute to avoid debris also increases a driver’s risk of losing control of their vehicle and can make a bad situation worse.
- More than 1 in 3 crashes involving debris occur between 10 a.m. and 3:59 p.m., a time when many people are on the road hauling or moving heavy items like furniture or construction equipment.
- Debris-related crashes are much more likely to occur on Interstate highways. Driving at high speeds increases the risk for cargo to fall onto the roadway.
So how do you decrease your chances of being involved in a road-debris crash? AAA recommends:
- Maintain Your Vehicle. For example, badly worn or underinflated tires can blowout, leaving tire pieces on roadways.Rusted exhaust systems and hardware can cause mufflers and other parts to drag or break loose.
- Secure Vehicle Loads. To properly secure a load, drivers should use rope, netting or straps; tie large objects direction to the vehicle; and cover the load with a tarp. Overloading a vehicle can cause problems too.
- Drive defensively. Try to maintain space on at least one side of your vehicle in the event you need to steer around the object; scan at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead; and avoid tailgating.
Currently, every state has laws that make it illegal for items to fall from a vehicle while on the road with penalties ranging from $10-$5,000 with at least 16 states listing jail as a possible punishment for offenders. In Connecticut, causing items to fall from a vehicle is an infraction and could result in a $100 fine. Some additional tips on defensive driving and how to report road debris to the proper authorities are available online at AAA.com/PreventRoadDebris.
AAA Northeast is a not-for-profit auto club with 62 offices in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York providing more than 6 million local AAA members with travel, insurance, finance, and auto-related services.