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Road debris, a form of road hazard, is debris on or off a road. Road debris includes substances, materials, and objects that are foreign to the normal roadway environment. Debris may be produced by vehicular or nonvehicular sources, but in all cases it is considered litter, a form of solid waste.
Examples of road debris include:
- Particulates, dust, dirt, sand, and mud
- Asphalt, concrete, pebbles, rocks/stones/boulders, etc.
- Ice, snow, water (puddles or flooding), and other liquids like grease and engine oil
- Particles of road salt and other de-icers
- Plants and their parts branches, leaves, sticks, twigs, seeds etc.
- Litter, food, furniture, mattresses, and other garbage/trash/waste
- Glass, nails, screws, and other sharp objects
- Auto parts, tire tread, etc.
- Bicycles, roof racks, luggage, lumber, construction supplies, and other items dropped from vehicle windows deliberately or accidentally
- Animal corpses (roadkill)
- Broken glass, plastic, and other materials that fall off vehicles during traffic collisions
Road debris is a hazard that can cause fishtailing and damage like a flat tire or even a traffic accident with injury or death. Road debris can cause loss of control crashes, rollover crashes, or penetration of the passenger compartment by the debris.
In 2004, a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study revealed that vehicle-related road debris caused 25,000 accidents—and nearly 100 deaths—each year. At highway speeds, even small debris can be deadly. On June 16, 1925, in the United States, a passenger train carrying German and American tourists from Chicago, Illinois to Hoboken, New Jersey struck debris washed into a road crossing and derailed during a heavy thunderstorm. Collision with road debris resulted in a solar vehicle accident at the World Solar Challenge 2007 in Australia.
Road debris, for the most part, tends to collect in areas where two-track vehicles such as cars and buses do not drive. In urban areas, this tends to be on the edges (shoulder) and on the crown of the road, and debris frequently collects around traffic islands and junctions. In rural areas, this tends to be in the middle of the lane and on the outside of corners and bends. Road debris can be especially dangerous to bicyclists, who may have to travel outside the cycle lane and into traffic, to avoid debris.
Road debris can also cause other more specific problems and damage to vehicles. Rocks can hit the catalytic converter and cause the internal mat to break and clog the converter. Several recalls have occurred due to road debris. The 2005 Scion TC's wind deflector was recalled because of potential shatter from road debris impact. The 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor was recalled in February 2010 due to possible mixture of road salt and road debris (mud) being trapped between a reinforcing bracket and the fuel filler pipe, potentially causing corrosion. The 2001 Chevrolet C/K chassis cab truck was also recalled due to a possible road debris impact problem with its pressure relief valves.
Road spray can cause reduced visibility and dramatically reduce the safety of motorists. Over time, road spray and gunk from [a bicycle's] brake pads coat the rim of the wheel, which interferes with stopping power.
Large vehicles may throw up a lot of [road] spray when the roads are wet, which can make it difficult for following drivers to see ahead. Dropping back further moves the driver away from the spray and makes for better and greater visibility, and also increases the following/separation distance between the spraying vehicle and the driver's vehicle. Using headlights (or fog lights) helps increase the driver's visibility too. Driving manuals recommend not following the vehicle in front too closely (or tailgate).
A car bra can help reduce damage from minor road debris. Road spray is lessened on stone mastic asphalt and open-graded asphalt and can be further reduced with a fender (more so on a bicycle since most motor vehicles tend to already have fenders) and/or a mud flap. Street sweepers and winter service vehicles get rid of most road debris and the Adopt a Highway program also helps. Road signs and variable-message signs may warn drivers of special situations involving road debris.
- Motor vehicle operators should know and understand how to secure their loads, load securement requirements, littering laws, and associated penalties of failing to comply.
- Drivers carrying loads should periodically inspect their vehicles and cargo to make sure it remains safe and secure.
- Be aware of the surroundings and look ahead up the road for any potential hazard.
- Immediately report unsafe vehicles and unsecured loads.
- Enact and enforce legislation requiring that loads be covered, or use anti-littering legislation to penalize offenders.
- Increase fines and demerit points for unsecured loads.
- Make road debris incidents and crashes an absolute-liability offense.
Removal and mitigation
- Regular road inspection and timely removal of debris.
- Better roadway design that provides adequate visibility of stationary objects in the roadway to motorists traveling at highway speeds.
- Source of subsections
Ocean Colour Scene, an English Britpop band, made a song about Birmingham, England called "Debris Road" (reputed to be about the road running past the band's recording studios in Ladywood) on their Marchin' Already 1997 album.
Some video games (particularly racing games) include road debris that will damage the vehicles or obstruct their vision. Spy Hunter (1983) features slippery icy roads and puddles, oil slicks, and smoke screen. MotorStorm (2007) has mud that flies around and gets painted accurately onto the body of each vehicle in real-time. Players can use this airborne grime to their advantage: a chunk of debris might knock an opponent clean off their motorcycle, or a mud spatter on their wind-shield might temporarily blind them. Fuel (2009) features "crazy windstorms that kick up leaves and debris".
- "25,000 CRASHES A YEAR DUE TO VEHICLE-RELATED ROAD DEBRIS, STUDY FINDS", AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety press release of "The Safety Impact of Vehicle-Related Road Debris", Gerry Forbes and John Robinson, June 2004
- The official DSA theory test for car drivers and the official Highway code, Driving Standards Agency, The Stationery Office, 2007, 475pp, ISBN 978-0-11-552886-6 at Google Books
- Road Safety Tips - Road Debris, American Automobile Association
- Any of these can be mixed with liquid water to create "road spray".
- "Highway Debris, Long an Eyesore, Grows as Hazard", The New York Times, Patricia Leigh Brown, May 11, 2007
- "Road Debris and Auto Accidents", ExpertLaw, Aaron Larson, 2005-2006
- "Road Debris Can Be Fatal", CBS News' The Early Show, Tatiana Morales, July 13, 2004
- Lackawanna Old Road, Lackawanna Cut-Off#Notes
- "Accidents, fires: Price of littering goes beyond fines.". Olympia, Washington: Washington State Department of Ecology. 2004-06-01.
- "Road Debris", British Motorcyclists Federation, Christopher Hodder, June 2007
- "Catalytic Converters", About.com, Vincent Ciulla, retrieved 2010-2-7
- "Auto Repair: Motor Vehicle Recalls", About.com, retrieved 2010-2-7
- Defects and Recalls, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 24 Feb 2010, retrieved 5 April 2010
- "Auto Repair: Motor Vehicle Recalls", About.com, retrieved 2010-2-7
- "Splash and spray from wet pavements increase safety risks for motorists and are a concern for road authorities.", Australian Asphalt Pavement Association, retrieved 7 March 2010
- "30 Days to a Beautiful Bike", Ken Derry and the Bicycling staff, Bicycling, December 2007, p.63, Google Books
- '07 Buyer's Guide, Bicycling, April 2007, p. 100
- List of songs about Birmingham
- Ridin’ Dirty: A new game harnesses the PS3 for serious mudslinging., Wired 15.04, March 2007, retrieved 5 April 2010
- Fuel Off-Road Video Game Review, Josh Burns, off-road.com, 1 July 2009
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