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The other day, we were driving on a busy highway when traffic suddenly came to an abrupt stop. We had to hit the brakes hard to avoid slamming into the vehicle in front of us. As the traffic jam cleared five minutes later, we drove by the cause of the slowdown. It was just some plastic boxes and a few wooden pallets that fell off the back of a commercial truck.
No one was hurt that time, but the incident got us thinking about how many accidents (and fatalities) happen in the U.S. every year and how can this problem be alleviated? If you have been driving for more than a few years, you have likely encountered serious debris in your path. Most drivers have stories about stones or other objects striking their windshield and possibly cracking them. In many cases, we have heard about objects that travel through drivers' car windows, and even hitting the driver or a passenger. At Ventura Collision Center, we meet our customers after they get into accidents, but we always are concerned about the overall safety of everyone here in Ventura, CA and all over the rest of the country.
Certain roads and highways are obviously more susceptible to falling rocks, mudslides and other potentially dangerous things. Many safety organizations (such as the NHTSA, for example) advise people to alter their driving techniques when driving on roadways where debris will more likely be present. It always comes down to common sense—slow down, keep your eyes open and your head on a swivel and be ready for the unexpected.
One of the main problems with debris on the road is, how can you find the responsible party? Depending on where you live or work, this scenario can change. The government agency that is responsible for road maintenance in your part of the country should customarily respond to the presence of any road debris rather promptly. They should regularly be removing debris from the shoulder of the road and/or from traffic lanes.
In most instances, where an accident is caused by road debris, it's often difficult to assign liability for injuries arising from the presence of debris on the road. In order for a government agency to be liable, you must typically prove that the government was aware of the presence of the object or debris, and failed to respond to the situation within a rational amount of time after learning of its existence.
In addition, it is sometimes just as difficult to identify the driver or person who is responsible for the debris or objects on the road. Even immediately after a truck drops a piece of garbage, it can become virtually impossible to find out how the debris got there. As a result, it is often extremely hard to recover damages for injuries from the accountable party following an accident caused by road debris. In those cases, the best thing is to try and find witnesses who are willing to be involved. If the witness is able to identify the vehicle, its owner or driver, it may be feasible to pursue a negligence claim against the driver for harm or injuries caused by the debris.
The best advice that we can give you about road debris is always anticipate the unanticipated and never exceed the speed limit. That way, you can hopefully avoid any debris in your way before the situation becomes dire by responding quickly.