How to Avoid Road Debris

How to Avoid Road Debris

For most drivers, road debris is a fact of life, and is responsible for thousands of crashes in the U.S. each year. You can avoid being a statistic by adopting four commonsense driving techniques.

Aggressive drivers, road work, an unexpected breakdown — these are some of the biggest hazards and headaches drivers typically encounter during an average day on the road. However, there is a hazard that may be more common than all of these and more dangerous: road debris.

The statistics are as stunning as they are surprising. Road debris causes about 50,000 crashes and 440 deaths per year, according to ABC News. In a study by the AAA, road debris was responsible for more than 200,000 crashes on U.S. highways over a three-year period.

Most debris-related accidents result from either cargo that isn’t properly secured or a vehicle component, e.g., a truck’s retread that fails and is flung back into oncoming traffic.

While debris is something that few drivers can do anything about, there are defensive driving techniques that will help keep you and other drivers safe on the road when you do inevitably encounter road debris.

Knowing the Risks

There are several risk factors to be aware of related to debris crashes, according to the AAA:

  • High Speed: Debris-related accidents most often occur on interstate highways, because of the high speed limits that can cause cargo and vehicle components to fly off, and are the reason so many are severe.
  • Time of Day: Most debris-related crashes occur between 10 a.m. and 3:59 p.m., which is a popular window to haul equipment or move heavy or large items, such as furniture or heavy equipment and tools.
  • Swerving: According to the AAA, one-in-three deaths related to a road debris crash results from swerving to avoid the object in the road. Overcorrecting at the last minute to avoid debris can cause a driver to lose control of his or her vehicle — increasing the severity of the crash.

Avoiding the Hazard

While the conditions of busy interstates make them ideal breeding grounds for road debris, there are four techniques you can use to help you anticipate and avoid any hazard to remain safe on the road:

  1. Continually scan ahead: As a general rule, you should always be scanning ahead for potential hazards — this will help avoid overcorrecting at the last second and a possible crash.
  2. Maintain a safe following distance: Tailgating in any situation is a recipe for a crash. Maintain at least a 3- to 4-second following distance. This will allow you to see any potential hazards ahead, giving you time to react safely.
  3. Drive Through: It may seem counterintuitive, but experts recommend that if you are about to come in contact with road debris — such as piece of tire or other navigable object — reduce your speed and drive through it. You should attempt to safely avoid coming in contact with a large piece of debris, e.g., a bumper, a mattress, etc., and drive around it if possible (see point #4).
  4. Spatial Awareness: If possible, always maintain open space between you and the car in front of you and at least one side or your vehicle. This will give you an “escape route” in case you have to steer out of your present lane to avoid coming into contact with a large piece of road debris.

Don’t Contribute to the Problem

With winter about to enter with a vengeance, drivers in Snowbelt states should make sure that they clear their vehicles of ice and snow before getting on the road. While it may not seem so, snow and ice flying off of vehicles can cause the same kind of debris and high-kinetic-related crashes as a mattress or tire.

If you are transporting any objects, e.g., a Christmas tree, make sure you adequately secure the load with rope, netting, or straps. The object should be attached to the vehicle or a trailer, and entirely covered with a sturdy tarp or netting. And make sure you are not overloading the vehicle. Finally, before you get on the road, check and double check that the load is secure.

Make sure that you’re keeping up with your vehicle’s preventive maintenance (PM) schedule — and/or are adhering to the PM schedule set by your company’s fleet policy if you are driving a company vehicle. Tires and other components can fail at high rates of speed, which could cause your vehicle to crash and send the failed component flying into a vehicle behind you.

Commonsense, a cool head, and looking ahead will help you navigate any potential road debris hazards.

Drive Safely!

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