This article was last updated: Feb. 1st, 2023
The most recent research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety shows that road debris is a factor in nearly 10,000 car accident injuries each year in the United States. To better understand why road debris is a danger to motorists on roads and highways, we’ll look first at what can be considered road debris, and then examine who is liable if flying debris hits your car.
If you have further questions, get in touch with a car accident attorney with experience in complicated motor vehicle accident cases. Our auto collision attorneys at The Solomon Law Group are available to answer questions in the Columbia, South Carolina area.
What Are Flying Debris?
According to vehicle crash statistics published by the South Carolina Department of Public Safety, within one year in our state nearly 400 accidents were caused by debris in the road. “Swerving to avoid an object” was cited as the cause leading to hundreds of injuries in collisions. Another statistic showed that “other movable object”—an object other than a vehicle, animal, pedestrian, train, maintenance equipment, or roadway fixture—was a factor in nearly 800 collisions.
What kind of objects are included in the term “debris” when discussing road accidents? Debris can be defined as any hazard that is not supposed to be in the roadway. Flying debris is especially dangerous. Drivers most often face flying debris when an object is picked up and thrown by the tires of another car, or when objects are not properly secured on a moving vehicle and fly off in the roadway. Drivers do not expect these objects to appear—and collisions, vehicle damage, and personal injury can result. The following objects are ones frequently seen as road debris:
- Fallen rocks or stones thrown by tires
- Pieces of blown tires
- Unsecured objects that fly out of a truck bed (appliances, equipment, furniture)
- Tree limbs and other plant debris
- Garbage or litter
- Broken guardrails
- Oil or other liquid spills
- Wreckage from another vehicle crash
- Animals, often deer, killed by motor vehicles
- A trailer being towed by another vehicle that unhitched
- Broken auto parts fallen from a damaged vehicle
National road debris accident statistics indicate that about two-thirds of debris-related crashes are caused by items falling off vehicles—either broken parts falling from improperly maintained vehicles, or unsecured loads falling from trucks. This type of road debris is especially dangerous because it appears suddenly while the vehicle is moving. This often leaves other drivers little or no time to react to avoid a collision.
How to Determine Who Is Liable in an Accident Involving Debris
The type of object involved in the crash is a major factor in determining who is liable if flying debris hit your car and caused damage. For example, a tree limb that naturally fell into the road and an unsecured sofa that flew off another driver’s truck are two different types of objects when considering liability.
After a road debris crash, drivers are right to ask: does insurance cover hitting debris? Contact your insurance company representative, as it will depend on your policy. In many cases, your collision coverage should cover unavoidable road debris collisions on the highway or road. Be sure to speak with your car accident attorney if there are any complications as you file your insurance claim. One of the jobs of a car accident lawyer is to make sure that auto insurance companies don’t try to take advantage of policy-holders by compensating them less than they deserve.
But what if the debris was the result of another driver’s negligence? Who is responsible for damage caused by road debris that shouldn’t be there? If another driver was responsible for the flying debris, and that debris was the cause of your vehicle damage and injury, it may be best to take legal action.
For example, if someone fails to properly secure a sofa in the back of their pick-up truck and it flies off and hits your car, that driver is likely liable for the accident. You and your lawyer will need to work together to gather evidence proving the at-fault driver’s negligence. Because one of the biggest problems leading to flying debris accidents is a failure to secure large objects, holding negligent parties accountable can help deter future instances of this dangerous behavior.
There are other situations in which roadway defects, defective car parts, or poorly maintained roads may have been the source of the road debris that caused an accident or damage to your vehicle. It’s possible that a negligent auto parts manufacturer was at fault, or that The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) was negligent in its duty to keep roads safe for South Carolina drivers. An experienced car accident lawyer will be able to work with you to determine who was liable and should be held accountable in these specific scenarios.
Why Is Debris on the Road Dangerous to Motorists?
As we have discussed, there are many dangers associated with debris on the highway or road. Too many preventable injuries and deaths have resulted from highway debris-caused accidents.
When debris flies off a vehicle or lands in the roadways, it can cause:
- External damage to vehicles, like broken windshields, cracked windows, dents, and popped tires
- Internal vehicle damage leading to stalling or breaking down
- One-vehicle collisions when a car swerves into a guardrail, tree, building, or another object
- Two or multi-vehicle accidents when a car attempts to avoid debris
- Rear-end collisions when a car brakes suddenly
- Injuries resulting from deployed airbags
- Injuries from collisions with other vehicles, including head, neck, spine, brain, and nerve trauma
- Traumatic injuries and fatalities when a heavy object enters through the windshield
- Lacerations and other injuries when a sharp objects cuts through the vehicle
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) when motorcyclists are not wearing helmets
By taking simple preventative measures, you can help decrease the risk of road debris crashes.
Recommendations to Avoid Debris-Caused Crashes
The AAA makes road safety recommendations to help motorists avoid causing or being involved in a road debris crash. Those operating a motor vehicle can help lower the odds of a road debris accident by maintaining their vehicles and always securing loads and trailers properly. When maintaining your vehicle, keep in mind that:
- Underinflated, overinflated, and worn tires can blow out and cause a flying debris accident
- Rusted hardware can fall off and hit another vehicle
- Loose parts, fenders, and dragging mufflers are a serious road hazard
- Keeping up with regular car maintenance is an important step in car safety
Additionally, if you are moving or towing objects, make sure every item is properly secured. There should be no risk of an object flying off or out of your moving vehicle. If you are moving or towing furniture, appliances, ladders, equipment, trees, lumber, building supplies, or other heavy objects, all items should be tightly secured before you begin driving, even short distances. The AAA advises that to properly secure a load, drivers should:
- First tie the load down tightly using rope, netting, cords, or straps
- Use a tarp or netting to cover the entire load
- Tie large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer
- Be careful not to overload the vehicle
- Double and triple check trailer hitches
- Try to evenly distribute weight
- Do a quick test by pulling and pushing on pieces of the load to make sure nothing is loose
- Always double check the load to make sure it is secure before driving
If you see that another car on the highway around you is carrying a potentially-dangerous load, stay as far away as you can. Other drivers sharing the road with vehicles towing or carrying large loads should practice extra caution. In all cases, avoid tailgating (following too closely). Repeatedly sweep the road with your eyes to watch for falling or flying debris. It’s recommended that you continue to visually search at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead of you on the road for debris.
If you do see that there is danger of hitting or being bit by a piece of debris, try not to give in to the urge to brake suddenly of swerve abruptly. As we have discussed, this can lead to accidents with other vehicles. Instead, as safely as possible, reduce your speed as much as you can before making contact, and steer out of the object’s path if you are sure that it is safe to do so.
What to Do After Your Car Is Hit by Flying Debris
If you are seeking legal advice following a debris-caused accident, we encourage you to reach out to our legal team with questions. While every motor vehicle crash is a unique situation, some car accidents are more complicated than others when it comes to determining who is liable. When an auto collision is caused by flying debris, it’s not always easy to immediately know which party is at fault. Having a lawyer on your side after a car accident can be a great help.
A car accident lawyer’s job is to make sure that you receive the compensation you need to recover after an accident. We also work hard to make our roads safer for everyone. When a party is negligent and creates a situation of harm for other drivers, they should be held accountable. Through conscientious legal action, our team at The Solomon Group fights for improved road safety for all drivers in South Carolina. Contact our office to schedule a free discussion about how we can help you.