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Rush hour traffic from Highway 400 merges with the eastbound Highway 401 during rush hour in Toronto (2009 file photo). (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)
Rush hour traffic from Highway 400 merges with the eastbound Highway 401 during rush hour in Toronto (2009 file photo). (Randall Moore/The Globe and Mail)

Safety

The dangers of road debris Add to ...

As if you don’t have enough to worry about while driving, let me suggest you go to YouTube to punch in road debris.

Because of the proliferation of dashboard cameras, there are some amazing and terrifying videos of cars striking objects on the road.

For example, there’s one which shows an extremely close-call. A man is driving on Interstate-80 near Omaha, NB and hears a loud bump under his car, but he keeps driving.

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Upon arrival at his destination, he looks in the back seat and there’s big piece of angle iron which had ripped right through the floor – just behind the driver’s seat – and then tore up through the back seat. He was saved by a few centimetres.

There’s another even more devastating video showing a car on an expressway hitting something small and sharp. The tires explode, the car loses control, swerves across two lanes into a wall, bounces off, and is crushed by the car with the dashboard cam.

Judging by my experiences this summer, the frequency of stuff flying off cars and trucks and trailers is climbing ever higher.

I’ve seen enough furniture flying off cars northbound on Highway 400 to fill a large apartment. Chairs, tables, various boxes and bags. Also lumber, coolers, garbage pails and bicycles falling off the rear rack. You don’t want to hit a bike while doing the limit on a crowded highway. Ask any motorcyclist about that.

I even had a large SUV roar past me on the 400 at warp speed while towing a large boat on an undersized trailer (with one axle and two tiny wheels that were spinning furiously). I sensed danger.

Sure enough, 10 seconds later, a tire blew, the trailer swerved and nearly flipped the SUV, but the driver somehow hung on and successfully steered it to the shoulder.

Another time, a car flew by with its muffler trailing behind, hanging on by a single strap. The driver was oblivious to the noise and sparks shooting off it as it scraped the road.

And I’ve witnessed more than my share of improperly secured mattresses flying off the roof of a car or the back of a pickup truck. Fortunately, none have ever hit me.

Frankly, the most dangerous vehicle on the road is a dump truck pulling a trailer loaded with excavating equipment. Covered in mud and stones, all it takes is one bump for a rock to fly off and into your windshield.

A 2011 U.S. study – from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) – shows that more than 800 Americans were killed that year in vehicle collisions with road debris. A 2009 study by the American Automobile Association Foundation for Traffic Safety revealed that vehicle-related road debris cause approximately 25,000 collisions annually in North America. It’s scary out there.

And while videos certainly highlight the dangers of debris, try as you might, sometimes there is nothing you can do to avoid the crash.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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