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Debris on Texas highways cause hundreds of crashes every year

Debris falling off of vehicles on highways is a major problem in Texas, causing hundreds of crashes every year.

According to the Texas Department of Transportation, there were nearly 1,600 crashes caused by debris falling off of vehicles in Texas between 2012 and 2015. Five people were also killed in that span.

Nationally, AAA says it’s even worse. Between 2011 and 2014 there were more than 500 deaths and 200,000 crashes.

“It’s clear that road debris is a huge problem,” AAA spokesperson Kara Thorp said.

Thorp says the AAA study didn’t look at Texas numbers, but she did say Central Texas is prone to debris crashes too. That’s because with Austin growing, there are more people moving furniture and other things on the highway.

She also said the study shows most crashes caused by debris happen on the interstate where there are higher speeds.

“I-35 is definitely the one to watch out for,” Thorp said.

When debris falls off of vehicles, it can turn into a speeding projectile. In Virginia recently, Stuart Roy’s windshield was impaled by a pitchfork after it fell off a truck.

“The only reason it didn't come through and hit me and go through my head is because part of the pitchfork went through the frame of the car and through the frame of the door. That's what hung it up. The rest of the pitchfork came past my hands on the steering wheel so it was only probably 12 or 16 inches from my face,” Roy said.

However, even if debris doesn’t fall into a vehicle, it’ll still fall on the roadway and become a traffic hazard. According to AAA, 40 percent of deaths in road debris accidents are caused by drivers trying to swerve around something that comes at them.

Highway Emergency Response Operator Will Mackin picks up debris on highways every day. During a drive with CBS Austin, he picked up a large nightstand on the lower deck of I-35 in Austin.

He says lumber is the most common debris, but he also sees a lot of furniture.

“A couch and a love seat. I’ve seen dining room tables, dining room chairs,” Mackin said.

Mackin says it’s frustrating seeing this happen because he says straps are very cheap and loads are easy to tie down. He pointed out one truck he said wasn’t tied down properly.

“All it would take is some wind to get in there, and just pick that thing up and it’s coming out,” Mackin said.

According to Austin Police, drivers can get a citation for “failure to secure load.” However, citations are rarely issued unless debris falls off and causes a crash, or an officer sees debris fly off a vehicle.

Mackin says he remembers one case where a truck lost a ladder which then caused a four-vehicle crash. Mackin says the man came back to claim the ladder, and he says then the man’s insurance had to pay for repairs on all four cars.

Thorp says crashes can be prevented. Most important drivers should maintain their vehicles and make sure everything is tied down and secure in the back of a truck or trailer.

She also says drivers can also not tailgate, look 10 to 15 seconds ahead and leave a space to the side to have room to maneuver if needed.

“Be focused on the task of driving and be very aware of your surroundings,” Thorp said.

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