According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, road debris was to blame for more than 200,000 crashes on the nation’s roadways between 2011 and 2014. That’s an average of 50,000 each year or nearly 1,000 each week.
If you’re driving behind a vehicle with an unsecured payload and something flies off, you have to either swerve or jam on the breaks to hopefully avoid a collision. And, even if you avoid the flying or falling object, you might not avoid guard rail or another vehicle. But, by being alert and increasing your following distance you can reduce the chance of an accident.
I’ve seen everything from lumber to major appliances blocking lanes. The major cause of this is people driving with unsecured loads. Whether they’re hauling stuff to the dump, heading to a worksite, or moving furniture, they’re not tying down the load in a proper and safe manner. That puts all of us at risk.
I spend a lot of time on the highway, often between the hours of 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. That’s a timeframe when many of us are also on the road for business purposes, such as travelling to a meeting or heading back from one. It’s also a time when many workers are on the road hauling furniture, construction equipment, or other materials.
I’m sure you have seen your own examples of loose loads going down the freeway. But what can we do about it?
Expect the unexpected
First, watch for road debris hazards. Being alert and ready for anything will help you avoid disaster. Don’t follow a pickup with the bed full of stuff and assume that its load is secure. Change lanes and pass if possible. I never follow contractors’ pickups or commercial trucks. You never know what could come flying toward you.
If you’re unable to change lanes, avoid tailgating. Instead, slow down and leave more space between you and the driver in front of you.
Second: Keep a safe distance and remember the three-second rule. Pick a landmark and when the vehicle in front of you passes the landmark start counting: ‘one thousand-one, one thousand-two, one thousand-three.’ In normal traffic, if you pass the landmark after you finish counting, you’re likely at a safe following distance. But, when following a vehicle that could send something flying your way, you might consider adding a few more seconds.
Road debris can appear right in front of you without warning. Greater awareness and a larger following distance give you more time to react in case something unexpectedly flies in your direction. Check out the California DMV website for more tips.