Road debris pose an emerging traffic risk: Auto club wants to hear from Idahoans about their road debris experiences

courtesy: US Census Bureau
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BOISE, Idaho (News Release) – A new AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study reveals that the evasive maneuvers taken by drivers to avoid road debris may limit the effectiveness of the vehicle safety devices designed to protect motorists.

The study reveals debris-related crashes have increased by 40 percent since 2001. Between 2011 and 2014, the U.S. recorded 200,000 such crashes accounting for 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths. AAA Idaho is reaching out to Idahoans to get a better understanding of the phenomenon.

Road debris crashes are a cause for concern, says Dave Carlson, public affairs director for AAA Idaho, because they reflect the growth in overall traffic volume, the potential risks of unsecured loads, and how drivers react in such interactions.

Debris-related crashes are defined as those in which a vehicle struck or was struck by an object that fell or became detached from another vehicle, struck a non-fixed object, or crashed after swerving to avoid an object in the roadway. Live animals and falling trees were excluded from the study.


Driver attempts to avoid road debris resulted in injury 43 percent of the time, in stark contrast to the 16 percent injury rate that occurred when vehicles actually struck or were struck by debris. AAA says attempts to avoid road debris led to 185 fatalities, accounting for more than one-third of the 500-plus crash fatalities recorded between 2011 and 2014.

“The data raises questions about some drivers’ priorities,” Carlson said. “Some drivers apparently take dangerous actions such as swerving to protect their vehicles instead of allowing the vehicle’s safety devices to perform as designed.”

AAA says that in some cases, a collision with roadside debris may produce a safer result than an attempt to avoid it.

Swerving to avoid one object can lead to secondary collisions with other objects, and in some cases can even result in an overturned vehicle. In 2014, rollovers accounted for 66 percent of Idaho’s single-vehicle fatalities.

“The latest safety features and technologies make vehicles more expensive,” Carlson noted. “Ironically, apprehension about of prospect of expensive and repair costs could be deterring drivers from allowing these safety devices from doing their job.”

AAA recommends that motorists exercise judgment when opting to avoid road debris. Crumple zones, air bags, seat belts, advanced braking systems and other safety features may not be as effective in a potential skid or rollover situation.

“Drivers do not have much time to react,” Carlson said. “Then add elements like cell phone distractions and the alarming fact that just 80 percent of Idahoans regularly use a seat belt, and the situation can become a recipe for disaster.”

Officials at the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) share AAA’s concerns about road debris. As one of their top priorities, ITD crews mitigate for road debris on a daily basis. A spokesman for ITD said truck tires are another potential hazard as big rigs “shed it and leave it.”

AAA recommends that drivers take the following steps to avoid debris-related crashes:

• Maintain your vehicle. Badly worn or underinflated tires often suffer blowouts that can create debris. Also, regularly inspect your vehicle for loose or corroded parts.

• Secure vehicle loads. Anchor large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer. Use rope, netting and straps to keep loads in place, and cover the entire load with a secure tarp. Do not overload the vehicle. A violation of Idaho’s road debris law can result in penalties of up to $2,000 in fines and 6 months in jail.

• Drive defensively. Avoid tailgating and other aggressive driving habits. Scan the road 12 to 15 seconds ahead of you for debris or unexpected conditions, and maintain a safety cushion around your vehicle.

• Slow down, use your seat belt. Reduce speed to avoid or limit impact.

• Know your vehicle. Your car may be better designed for impact than for taking evasive action to avoid something on the road.

The AAA Foundation study found that one-third of debris-related accidents occur between 10:00 a.m. and 3:59 p.m., a time when many people are on the road hauling or moving heavy items like furniture, landscaping materials or construction equipment. In addition, compared with crashes that did not involve debris, debris-related crashes are four times as likely to occur on Interstate highways.

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