Last week, a member of our staff was driving her son and some friends to a basketball game on I-170. Traffic was a bit heavy, as it was the beginning of rush hour. As she was driving, she noticed cars in front of her slamming on their brakes and swerving into other lanes. As she approached the point where the drivers took evasive action, she came upon a large mattress in the middle of the lane, causing her to slow to a complete stop.
Cars in the left and right lanes whizzed by at 65 mph, meanwhile cars behind her screeched to a stop. She kept bracing herself for impact from the rear, but due to the debris in the roadway, there was nowhere for her to go. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed a large, yellow Missouri Department of Transportation truck within inches of her front fender. Suddenly, he used his plow to flip the mattress up and began pushing it to the side of the road. He went just slow enough for her to be able to follow him in her lane and get back up to highway speed. Kudos to MoDOT for their driver who likely helped her and others to avoid a major crash.
What should you do if you encounter debris in the roadway?
This incident sparked an idea: What should you do if you come upon debris in the roadway? The most simple way to avoid being trapped by debris, or worse, being injured or killed by debris in the roadway is to keep a safe following distance from any vehicle hauling anything on top of or in the bed of their vehicle. It’s the driver’s duty to secure their load properly to prevent debris in the roadway from becoming a hazard to other drivers. Sadly, there are about 25,000 people injured or killed each year due to drivers’ negligence in properly securing loads.
Debris in the roadway can be dangerous to drive over, such as with our staff member, but other times it can become a deadly weapon. 24-year-old Maria Federici nearly lost her life due to debris in the roadway. A large wooden board from a dresser that had fallen off the back of a truck came careening through her windshield, striking her in the face. She was rendered blind, and had brain damage and extensive skull fractures. A few extra minutes of securing the dresser could have prevented a tragedy. Be sure if you are hauling a load, to make sure it is secured not only at the beginning of the trip, but also throughout the trip. It’s a good idea to use ratchet straps, which can tighten down on your load more securely, making it less likely for you to leave debris in the roadway.
As a driver, you should make sure to be attentive at all times to avoid hitting debris in the roadway. If you see a car hauling a load in front of you, back off or change lanes so that you can ensure your path remains clear. If you do encounter debris in the roadway, don’t panic. Brake evenly and steadily so you don’t lose control or change lanes if it is safe to do so.
If you are injured by debris in the roadway, you could be eligible to make a claim against the load hauler’s insurance policy. Try to document the type of car and the license plate number if this happens. Also, make sure to call the police so that they can document how the accident happened, should you need to make a claim against your own policy.