AAA Study: Road Debris a Factor in More Than 200K Highway Crashes

unsecure_cargo Road debris

A new report by AAA shows that debris that has fallen from a vehicle, is a factor in more than 200,000 police-reported crashes. Those crashes included 500 people who died and about 39,000 injuries between the years 2011 and 2014.

According to the Traffic Safety 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.

“This new report shows that road debris can be extremely dangerous but all of these crashes are preventable,” said Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “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 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. There are some additional tips on defensive driving and how to report road debris to the proper authorities are available online at

(Photo credit: Transportation Cargo Safety Organization)