When people hear of pileups on the highway, a more immediate chain of events come to mind. This is not always the case. Oftentimes, multi-vehicle crashes occur because other vehicles crash into crashed vehicles some time later.

The debris from past crashes can also lead to other crashes. Debris may also fall off work trucks or the roof of a car. When vehicles drive over this debris or try to avoid them, crashes are often the result. What is worse is that these crashes can be deadly.

The death toll

In 2016, USA Today reported that debris on the roadway resulted in 200,000 crashes from 2011 to 2014. Of this number, 39,000 resulted in injuries and 500 were deadly. When crashes caused deaths, more than one-third of these instances involved a driver swerving to avoid the debris in the road.

The news agency cited these figures from an AAA study and compared them to a much earlier study in 2001. At that time, road debris accounted for 25,000 crashes, less than a hundred of which proved fatal.

The debris

The AAA study also provided some additional insight into where the debris came from. Here are a few examples:

  • Unsecured cargo, such as appliances or furniture
  • Vehicle parts coming loose, such as a bumper or even a wheel
  • Towed trailers separating from the tow vehicle

Roughly two-thirds of crashes caused by debris were the result of drivers not properly maintaining their vehicles and not properly securing their loads. Unfortunately, this irresponsible behavior tends to cause more trouble for other drivers on the road than the responsible party.

No one can plan ahead for road debris, but defensive driving can help. Drivers should practice looking ahead in the road for debris or other forms of obstruction so they can plan ahead. If the debris appears unexpectedly or comes detached from the vehicle ahead, AAA believes that reducing speed may help to reduce damage or injury.