Coinciding with the release of a report that found increasing danger presented by debris on U.S. roadways, local law enforcement and transportation officials gathered at a Southland maintenance yard Thursday to urge motorists to properly secure cargo to prevent it from falling and endangering other motorists.
"Drivers have more of a significant responsibility when it comes to preventing debris on the roads than most realize," said Anita Lorz Villagrana of the Automobile Club of Southern California's traffic safety and community programs. "It's important for drivers to know that many states, including California, have severe fines and penalties for drivers who drop items from the vehicles onto the roadway, and in some cases states impose jail time."
According to a report released Thursday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, there have been more than 200,000 crashes involving debris on U.S. roadways over the past four years. Road debris resulted in about 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths between 2011 and 2014, according to the study.
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The number of crashes was up 40 percent from 2001, when the foundation first examined the issue.
In California, there were about 45 fatal crashes resulting in 47 deaths as a result of road debris between 2011 and 2014, according to the study.
Caltrans officials said the agency spent more than $76 million last year on litter removal and collected enough trash and debris from freeways to fill more than 9,500 garbage trucks.
"Obviously, this is not the best use of valuable tax dollars and state resources that could go to projects to help maintain and enhance our transportation system," Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen said. "When Caltrans sweepers, trucks and maintenance workers have to clear litter from the freeway, the chances for severe or fatal injuries increase for motorists and Caltrans employees."
According to the Auto Club, the most common types of debris are mechanical parts such as tires that fall off vehicles; unsecured cargo such as furniture or appliances being dumped onto the roadways; and tow trailers becoming detached from the towing vehicle.
Auto Club officials urged people hauling items to properly secure the load with rope, netting or straps and tie large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer. Motorists should also cover the entire load with a sturdy tarp or netting and avoid overloading vehicles.