Unfortunately, these occurrences are startlingly frequent. The agency reported there were more than 200,000 road debris-related crashes resulting in tens of thousands of injuries and some 500 deaths over the last four years.
From 2011 to 2014, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports nearly 40,000 people suffered injuries in these accidents. More than one-third of those that ended in fatality involved a driver who swerved in order to avoid striking the debris. In other cases, vehicles struck the debris and in turn set off a chain-reaction of crashes.
The research director of the foundation noted that the majority of the most serious debris-related crashes that result in major injuries or deaths happen on highways. In fact, it was highways that accounted for fully one-third of these incidents overall. However, they are almost entirely preventable.
The solution? Properly securing loads. Drivers and commercial carriers can also take some basic simple precautionary measures to ensure items aren’t falling off the vehicle.
But drivers aren’t carrying out these simple solutions, as evidenced by the fact the dangerous road debris problem has apparently worsened. In 2001, researchers concluded there were approximately 25,000 road debris-related car accidents that year, resulting in approximately 100 fatalities. Now, the newest report indicates the annual average is 50,000 road debris-related wrecks, resulting in nearly 10,000 injuries and 125 deaths – and these are only the incidents reported to police.
As far as other factors, such as darkness and bad weather, these didn’t seem to be much of a factor when it came to the frequency and seriousness of these crashes. Slightly more than one-third of these incidents happened between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Another one-third happened between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Many cases involved the kind of debris one might expect: Fallen tree branches after a bad storm or pieces of a blown tire. However, there were other situations in which larger, stranger items caused the wrecks. For example, one case involved a sofa in the middle of the highway. Another involved a boat trailer that had gotten detached. In one case, there was a swing set in the roadway.
Every single state – including North Carolina – imposes fines on drivers whose items fall from their vehicles, but it varies significantly. For example, the penalty is just $10 in Delaware, while in Wisconsin, drivers who fail to secure their loads could be facing up to a year in prison and a $100 fine. There are 16 states total in which jail time is on the table for violation of the failure to secure statute.
In North Carolina, N.G.S. 14-399 holds that littering is a Class 3 misdemeanor that can be met with a fine of between $250 and $2,000. Violators could also be made to complete community service and may have one point assessed on their driver’s license. “Littering” can be defined as debris that is blown, scattered, spilled, thrown or placed from a vehicle or watercraft.
The Mecklenburg County Solid Waste and Recycling Center reports that in North Carolina, half of all litter is blown, not thrown.
The law requires cargo be properly secured with a net or tarp so that it won’t be tossed out due to wind drafts from higher travel speeds. Improperly secured loads are especially dangerous when a driver is traveling fast or encounters a bump, turn or sudden stop.
Liability in these cases will depend on the type of debris, if the vehicle from which it fell can be identified, how long it existed on that highway and whether officials were notified of the potential hazard.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
AAA: Road debris causes avoidable crashes, deaths, Aug. 11, 2016, By Bart Jansen, USA Today
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