Watch out! Dangerous road debris leads to accidents, death

Taking Action

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — You don’t see it coming until it’s too late: An object flying out of nowhere and coming straight at you, crashing through your windshield.

8News has uncovered dangerous road debris causing serious, and sometimes deadly accidents on our highways.

Stuart Roy had a brush with death. He was driving over the Woodrow Wilson Bridge when a pitchfork pierced his SUV.

“I didn’t see much of anything except just a flash, was able to turn, slam on the brakes and then it shattered,” he says.

At a VDOT site where road debris is collected, 8News found couches, coolers, tires, metal and even a grill -- all items that landed on Virginia roadways. 

Roy looked in his rearview mirror to see if the pitchfork hit another car.  It was then that he realized the pitchfork was actually lodged in his car.”It was probably within 15 to 18 inches of my face,” he explained.

The pitchfork came loose flew out of a passing truck.

“I am going 50 miles one way and he’s going 50 to 60 miles an hour the other way, and boom, the windshield shattered,” he recalled. “It was in my ears, glass was in my mouth.”

Looking at the damage, Roy started to think about his family.

“All the what if’s go through your mind. It easily could have killed me, probably should have killed me. I didn’t even duck,” says Roy.

Across the country, debris is causing danger on the roads.

At a VDOT site where road debris is collected, 8News found couches, coolers, tires, metal and even a grill -- all items that landed on Virginia roadways. 

From mattresses flying away to tires rolling down the highway, it happens every day. 8News found a boat that slipped off its trailer onto the interstate and recently in Vermont a steel bar flew through a car slicing through a baby seat. The child is OK.

In Colonial Heights, it was rebar in the road that destroyed a local man’s truck. Trevor Pilout told 8News he couldn’t avoid it.

“I saw it, it was kind of like a little too late,” he said. “I saw there was a chunk missing out of my bed, basically destroyed.”

At a VDOT site where road debris is collected, 8News found couches, coolers, tires, metal and even a grill -- all items that landed on Virginia roadways. 

8News got to ride along with VDOT’s Safety Service Patrol Operator Don Long. He’s been riding to the roads for three-and-a-half years working to keep drivers safe. “We scan the road for any hazards or potential hazards,” Long said. 

He looks for hazards like road debris.

“It’s a very big problem it does damage to the vehicles and it also causes people to swerve and run into other people.”

Long has seen it all.

“I picked up a pink canoe out in the middle of the road one day, kids toys, suitcases with the clothes flying out of them. You may have somebody drop nails or screws. I had 14 cars with flat tires that ran through screws in the road,” explains Long.

At a VDOT site where road debris is collected, 8News found couches, coolers, tires, metal and even a grill — all items that landed on Virginia roadways. 

At a VDOT site where road debris is collected, 8News found couches, coolers, tires, metal and even a grill -- all items that landed on Virginia roadways. 

In Virginia, 8News has discovered dangerous debris on our roads has caused 131 crashes in the last two years. (CLICK HERE for a breakdown of those numbers). According to VDOT, 70 people were injured. Across America, AAA found 200,000 debris-related accidents between the years of 2011 -2014. Those accidents resulted in the death of 500 people.  AAA also found 40 percent of those killed were trying to steer away from something coming their way.

“I would say the majority of it is not secured properly,” Long said.

VDOT, AAA and Roy urge drivers to take that extra time to make sure all items are secure before you hit the road, it could a matter of life or death.

AAA also advises drivers who see someone hauling something near them to drive defensively.

“It has made me more aware as a driver,” admits Roy.

At Roy’s home, he hugs his daughter as he recalls his close call. By the way, Roy kept that pitchfork.

“So this is the one that went through the frame of the car door,” he says while showing 8News the infamous pitchfork.

Roy says it’s a reminder of the story he lived to tell.

AAA offers more tips for properly securing your loads here. AAA also urges commercial vehicles to maintain their trucks, bad tires and rust can lead to flying debris and crashes. 

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