Dropping Junk All Over the Road: A Growing American Pastime

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
dropping junk all over the road a growing american pastime

Whether it’s a poorly tied-down college mattress taking flight like a ungraceful, soiled bird, or scrap metal launching itself out of a pickup bed after hitting a pothole, debris is piling up on U.S. roads, and drivers are dying because of it.

According to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, crashes caused by road debris rose 40 percent in the past 15 years. America’s loads have never been looser.

The study analyzed specific crashes: those resulting from collisions with debris, or by swerving to avoid it. Naturally occurring debris like animals, rocks and storm-tossed tree branches didn’t count. With this study, the only debris that matters fell out of — or off of — a vehicle.

Between 2011 and 2014, more than 200,000 crashes occurred as a result of other people’s property lying in the road. Those crashes led to more than 39,000 injuries and over 500 deaths. In total, 37 percent of the deaths occurred when a driver swerved to avoid a chunk of road-bound debris.

It’s a growing problem, despite the fact that “all of these crashes are preventable,” said Jurek Grabowski, the foundation’s research director. “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.”

Most of the crashes involved the three most common types of road debris — parts falling off a vehicle (wheels, etc), cargo detaching itself from a vehicle, and towed trailers coming loose. Interstates are hotbeds of lost mattresses and microwaves, the study found. That’s not surprising, given the volume of traffic and the elevated speeds (which are perfect for turning furniture into aircraft).

One-third of debris-related crashes take place between 10 a.m. and 3:59 p.m. — work hours, essentially, and when most hauling happens. The foundation recommends that drivers scan the road ahead of them for debris, and urges others to tie down their loads securely.

For lazy motorists who subscribe to the well, this should probably work philosophy, AAA wants you to know that 16 states list jail terms as a possibly penalty for at-fault motorists.

[Image: Gavin Bell/ Flickr]

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  • -Nate -Nate on Aug 16, 2016

    ? Is it no longer the right thing to do , stopping to help a stranded Motorist ? . . I change tires for Women and kids who look obviously over their heads , etc. on a regular basis . . Yesterday I stopped to help a fat lady push her stalled car out of traffic on a busy road , by the time I began to push , another Woman and a Man came running up so we had no difficulty pushing the dead sedan up a driveway out of traffic . . The flying debris thing is scary ~ twenty years ago on a lark I took a different route to my job and was S/B on the SR 170 North Hollywood Freeway when the Honda in front of me , lost it's hood @ 75 MPH ~ it flew up in the air then jinked left , right , left again , right again , I was driving a 1960 VW #117 Beetle in dense traffic , couldn't stop fast for fear of getting rear ended , cars on both sides of me as I frantically swerved trying to avoid it , in the end it came through my windshield edgewise and I thought it was my end . . Luckily it was slightly wider that the A Pillars so it jammed between them , the edge about 2" from my neck . . I pulled over , the Honda had begun to pull over but when the hood entered my windshield he took off , asshole . . I nearly shit my self but was O.K. in the end . . The CHP didn't want to even take a report . . -Nate

  • Yankinwaoz Yankinwaoz on Aug 16, 2016

    When I was 22 I went to visit a friend in the hospital ER who had a terrible car accident and fractured her back. In her room was another patient, an older man in his 50's if I had to guess. I ended up talking to him because my friend was zonked out. He was paralyzed. He told me that he hit a trailer that had broken loose on the freeway on the pickup in front of him. That was the most sobering experience of my life. I can no longer follow any amateur towing a boat/trailer/toys without giving them a lot of distance. Or if see poorly tied down cargo. I only wish that we would require all new drivers spend a day in the emergency room of a major hospital where the road victims come in. That would beat all of the "The Road Turns Red" training films.

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