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October 6, 2008


Hazards of the Highway

The unexpected dangers of road debris

One summer morning, Dave Dravuschak was navigating the Pennsylvania Turnpike traffic just west of Philadelphia on his way to work. And then, it hit.

“It” was not only unexpected, but completely unavoidable. It was a four-foot piece of tire remnant from a semi trailer long gone from the road, and it was coming right at him.

“The car in front of me sent it tumbling,” Dave explained. With three lanes of traffic all moving very fast, Dave didn’t have any choice but to collide and keep going.

“That kind of collision can rip up your brake line, so the first thing I did was gently test my brakes,” Dave recalls. “I checked the steering, too, and everything seemed okay, so I just kept driving.”

When he got to work and looked at the front of his car, he was met with far more damage than he had imagined. Broken fog lights, a loose grill, a dislodged bumper, a dented hood and a cracked windshield tallied up to more than $2,000 worth of damage to his 1998 BMW 528i.

Seen any flying mattresses in your day? Tell us your story and how you avoided unusual debris or mitigated the damage. If we choose your letter to run in the next issue of Eriesense, we’ll send you a free car safety kit.

Debris is a growing problem

Highway debris like this is becoming a costly and even deadly problem for highway motorists across the nation. In California alone, 155 people have died in the past two years due to accidents involving random highway objects. And there’s a lot of it. Experts say highway litter contributes to an estimated 140,000 cubic yards of road debris a year, or enough to fill 8,750 garbage trucks in a 45-mile-long line.

This type of debris is hard to avoid because it’s so unexpected. (Who would have planned for a flying mattress or shards of scrap metal?)

How to avoid it

  1. Beware of what’s around you. Be alert and focused so that you can make quick decisions if necessary.
  2. Put down the cell phone. Drivers talking/texting are four times more likely to get in a serious car crash, let alone hit something they’re not prepared for in the road.
  3. Follow the speed limit. Not only will this save on gas, but it will allow you more time to think, ‘Can I drive over it, or should I go around it?’
  4. Get some sleep. Driving sleepily can limit your ability to act quickly. If you’re tired, find the nearest hotel or rest stop.

The best precaution is not to leave debris for others. Check out a few packing tips so that you can keep everything with you when headed down the highway.

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