“Debris in the roadway near mile marker 161 on I-75.” How many times have you heard your local traffic reporter make a similar report?
Anyone who has spent anytime traveling our interstates is aware of all kinds of debris in the roadway. Most common, 87%, seems to be those pieces of truck tires, usually starting out as small shreds followed a mile or so down the road by large alligator-like carcasses that could cause some serious damage if you hit them. Other common debris includes garbage dropped by waste haulers, construction materials, mufflers and exhaust parts. The state of Arizona, for example, reports other common types of road debris as: mattresses, ladders, couch/chair cushions, bed liners, appliances, camper shells, carpet, plastic patio chairs, and ducting (sheet metal and insulated duct work).
In 2004 the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety released a study on vehicle-related road debris. The study revealed that it caused 25,000 accidents resulting in nearly 100 deaths each year.
Some states regularly send out crews to clean up the mess we make along our roads, at taxpayer expense. And we are, or should be, aware of the many local Adopt-A-Highway clean-up efforts.
California alone spends in excess of $55 million a year to remove the 140,000 cubic yards of litter that is spread along their roadways.
It is a sad commentary on our culture when a survey of our roadside debris can be used to determine our favorite beer or soft drink from the discarded cans, most popular fast food joint and preferred cigarette brand. Someone could do a survey of how many miles it takes to consume a drink or fast food by measuring the distance from the refuse back to the store.
Most curious is the lack of regard and just plain unawareness of those who contribute to the roadway debris and roadside litter.
Much of the most common debris consists of materials blown out of the backs of open trucks, typically pick-ups. According to research conducted by Keep America Beautiful this accounts for 40% of the litter. Among the items are the usual paper products: boxes, wrappings of various sorts and insulation, along with empty buckets and 5-gallon plastic containers. These days we see large numbers of those plastic shopping bags strewn along the road or caught in trees; blowing like an airport windsock.
Most people would pick up or secure such items to keep them from blowing around their homes in a windstorm but don’t secure them from the 60 mph winds blowing through the back of an open truck at highway speeds.
In these difficult economic times with people relocating because of their mortgage situation they are often forced to move themselves using open pick-ups and it is rare to see any tie downs or tarps being used.
A 2008 Arizona study found that only 36% of drivers noticed trash falling out of their vehicle. This means that about 2/3 were either unaware or just didn’t care. Some pickup truck drivers’ even brag about their “magic trucks” where trash put in the back “magically” disappeared on their way home. This so-called unintentional litter makes up 66% of the road debris in Georgia and 70% in Tennessee.
You would think that people would miss such large items as mattresses, furniture, camper shells and truck bed liners or at least see them falling off in their rear view mirrors. It is always amazing to see large furniture items like dressers sitting along the roadside as if they were set out for a yard sale. How did they get there and what were their owners thinking?
Locally, reports of a ladder in the road are frequent occurrences. What is amazing is that the driver obviously didn’t hear it fall off or even notice it missing.
Although much less serious, but worthy of mention, are the piles of unsightly cigarette butts that accumulate at intersections. Some communities do a good job of street cleaning and others just let them accumulate until the winter snowplows disperse them down the road. What makes people think that the intersection is their ashtray?
So here is a short list of recommendations to keep you safe and our roadways clear of debris:
- Secure your load or rent a truck with an enclosed cargo area.
- Watch those truck tires. If you see or smell tire smoke or observe loose tread flapping against the roadway and truck body this is a sure sign that the tire is ready to shed. Stay well behind or pass as soon as safely possible.
- Use your vehicle ashtray.
- Use a litterbag and dispose properly at roadside or rest stop receptacles.
- If you are behind a truck with an unsecured load, pass as soon as it is safe.
- If you notice litter coming from a vehicle make note of the license plate number and call authorities as soon as it is safe to do so. Do not use your cell phone while driving.
That’s my view, what’s yours?