When you're on the road, do you worry about hitting something on the road or something that flew off another vehicle? It is a growing problem in New Jersey and elsewhere.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that during the past four years across the country, there have been more than 200,000 crashes that involve road debris. Cathleen Lewis of AAA/Northeast says "we have seen those crashes increase 40 percent since 2001. So this is a growing problem."

Lewis says debris has caused more than 500 deaths and 39,000 injuries from people hitting "stuff" when they hit the road. And the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. is when most of those crashes occurred.

She says most of the crashes are on interstate highways because driving at higher speeds is going to increase the risk of something coming detached and something falling onto the roadway.

"Also, it makes it harder for you to make adjustments the higher the speed is that you are traveling at."

The "stuff" includes things falling from vehicles and parts of vehicles themselves. Lewis says "sometimes it is unsecured cargo, furniture, mattresses, those sorts of things. Trailers that have become separated from their vehicle."

And here in New Jersey, with deteriorating road conditions, Lewis says "the road debris can actually be the roadway." Chunks of asphalt and stones that come loose and become road debris.

Lewis offered some tips to avoid "losing your load" when you are hauling something:

First and foremost, make sure that your car is ready for the load, your tires are properly inflated, because as you put that additional weight on you are more likely to have a blowout.

And even having to make those quick adjustments might shake some of that load loose and that may create road debris.

Second, make sure that you are tying it down very securely. Use netting, straps, a large tarp to cover the whole thing. Make sure that the object is on the vehicle. Do not have a piece hanging off, and make sure that you are not overloading your vehicle because the heavier that your car is because of the load, the harder that it is to compensate for changes in the roadway. The harder it is to make quick reactions.

As a driver trying to avoid road debris, Lewis says you always want to have what they refer to as an "escape route" and look to make sure that you are keeping enough of a distance, so that you would be able to stop in time.

Joe Cutter is the afternoon news anchor on New Jersey 101.5

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