The Dangers of Debris Falling from Vehicles in Hampton Roads
Reckless driving, speeding, and distracted driving mean our roads are dangerous enough without additional hazards. However, debris falling from vehicles in Hampton Roads is posing a risk to the lives of motorists, according to a recent report.
The Virginian-Pilot noted a recent incident that saw a recliner end up on the busy Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, causing motorists to swerve to avoid it.
Falling debris is an ever-increasing problem in Virginia and elsewhere in the country. Kelly Alford, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), warned highway crews see a “tremendous amount” of debris tumbling off cars, vans, and trucks every day.
VDOT responded to almost 1,000 incidents of large debris disrupting travel in the state in 2020. About 70 injuries were reported. Unfortunately, mattresses, furniture, and even ladders are far from uncommon on our roads. Falling items do not need to be large to become road hazards. Even small items falling off vehicles can cause drivers behind to swerve suddenly, and cause accidents. Materials falling from dump trucks like sand or grit can cause poor visibility for drivers following behind.
Car Accident Cases Involving Debris Falling from Vehicles
Nationally, vehicle-related debris caused more than 200,000 crashes from 2011 to 2016, according to AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety. That is more than 50,000 crashes a year. Safety agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA) do not record these incidents regularly, but studies suggest they are becoming more common. The last time AAA studied this problem in 2001, debris falling from vehicles caused about 25,000 wrecks a year.
The scale of deaths and injuries caused by inconsiderate motorists who fail to secure furniture or other items is staggering. The AAA found 39,000 injuries and 500 deaths linked to road debris over the four-year study period. Most of the deaths resulted from drivers swerving to avoid debris thus causing crashes.
VDOT highlights a wide range of debris that ends up on the roads of Virginia including furniture, Christmas trees, lumber, wooden pallets, branches cut from trees, and even surfboards, the Pilot reported.
In some cases, motorists have ended up hurt when they encountered more unusual objects. The news channel ABC 8 News reported how Stuart Roy had a brush with death in Maryland in 2019. Roy was driving over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge when a pitchfork pierced his SUV. The pitchfork came loose from a passing truck. It shattered his windshield. Roy said it ended up within 15 to 18 inches of his face. He told the channel he considers himself lucky to be alive.
8 News highlighted how a boat slipped off its trailer onto the interstate and a steel bar flew through a car slicing through a baby seat in Vermont. Fortunately, the seat was unoccupied. In Colonial Heights, Virginia, rebar on the road destroyed a man’s truck.
Although commercial vehicles are subjected to strict rules related to securing loads, trucking companies sometimes flout the regulations. However, many of the problems are caused by people who occasionally transport loads and are unaware of how to secure them correctly.
VDOT notes tie-downs are not always enough. The agency suggests covering loads with tarps or netting and getting a passenger to watch for signs of loads coming loose. Drivers in Virginia and elsewhere can be ticketed for failing to properly secure loads.
The highway agency regularly scours the roads for fallen or dumped debris. Safety patrols check the bridges and tunnels like the HRBT and the Downtown Tunnel every four hours. VDOT also uses a contractor to sweep the shoulders for smaller objects that can become dangerous projectiles if they are picked up by car tires.
Who is Liable for Injuries Caused by Debris?
A driver or another person who fails to properly secure belongings on their vehicle may be held liable if it causes an accident. However, it can be challenging to prove where debris left on the highway came from.
If debris from a commercial vehicle causes an injury or a death, you may be able to sue the driver, a trucking company, a loading company, or another entity. Injured motorists may be able to sue a local government or a highway agency over a failure to clear roads, but this can be challenging. Typically, you would have to prove the debris had been left on the surface for an unreasonable amount of time.
Drivers may also be able to use uninsured motorist coverage to make an insurance claim for injuries caused by debris on their own insurance policies. Always talk to an experienced Virginia car accident lawyer about your options. Call Cooper Hurley Injury Lawyers for a case consultation.