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Dangerous Debris

Refrigerators, pallets, couches, mattresses, tires – just some of the many types of objects that litter our nation’s highways. They are so common that they tend to fade into the background, becoming part of the scenery. But how did these items get there? The most likely explanation is that they were not properly secured and fell from a car or truck. Both commercial and non-commercial vehicles can be the source of road debris, which can start a chain of events that ends in the serious injury or death of an innocent driver, passenger, or pedestrian.

It may happen that you are behind a vehicle when something comes flying out, forcing you to make a split-second decision of how best to react. In other instances, you may not see where the object came from – it’s just unexpectedly lying in your path. Serious accidents can result from striking debris as well as from sudden maneuvering, resulting in loss of control or swerving into another vehicle.

Accidents like these occur at an alarming rate. Using data from 2010 collected by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Government Accountability Office determined that road debris/unsecured loads caused about 440 fatalities and 10,000 injuries in more than 51,000 incidents. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety concluded that debris on U.S. roads was involved in more than 200,000 crashes from 2011 to 2014, which resulted in 39,000 injuries and more than 500 fatalities. The AAA study also determined that compared to crashes that did not involve debris, debris-related crashes were approximately four times as likely to occur on interstate highways, like I-95, I-195, and I-395.

The most common types of vehicle debris according to the AAA study are:

  • Auto parts, such as tires and wheels becoming detached from a vehicle and falling onto the road
  • Unsecured cargo, such as furniture and appliances landing on the roadway
  • Trailers being towed, separating from the vehicle, and crashing into another vehicle or landing on the roadway.

Protect yourself from road debris by driving defensively:

  • Don’t tailgate.
  • Scan the road at least 10 seconds ahead.
  • Leave space on one side of your car in case you need a quick escape route.

If you are hauling cargo:

  • Tie it down with rope, straps, or netting.
  • Cover the load with a tarp.
  • Don’t overload the vehicle.

All 50 states have laws that make it illegal to drive with unsecured loads. Currently, 16 states impose jail time as a possible punishment and 11 levy fines of more than $500. Here in Florida, “it is the duty of every owner and driver, severally, of any vehicle hauling, upon any public road or highway open to the public, dirt, sand, lime rock, gravel, silica, or other similar aggregate or trash, garbage, any inanimate object or objects, or any similar material that could fall or blow from such vehicle, to prevent such materials from falling, blowing, or in any way escaping from such vehicle.” If a driver willfully violates this duty and it results in serious bodily injury or death, the potential penalty includes a $500 fine and/or 60 days in prison.

No matter how objects are being transported – on a car’s roof, in the bed of a truck, in a trailer being towed – they should be tied down and/or covered by a tarp, regardless of how far the driver is going or how fast. If a vehicle with an unsecured load caused an injury or death in your family, you need an experienced attorney to effectively represent your interests. As one of South Florida's most respected and oldest law firms, Stabinski & Funt, P.A. has helped many people sort out their legal rights, responsibilities, and remedies. For 45 years, we have been the trusted advocates for countless traffic collision victims, and we are highly experienced in handling a wide range of auto and truck accident cases. We also work on a contingency basis, which means that if there is no recovery, there is no fee or cost to you. If you wish to learn more about how our firm can be of assistance to you, we encourage you to contact us for a free consultation by calling 305-964-8644-3100 or filling out a case evaluation form.

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