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ABC 6/FOX 28 experiment shows dangers of road debris

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Road debris is causing damage, wrecks, injuries, and deaths. And it's almost always preventable.

According to AAA, road debris causes 25,000 accidents and 80-90 deaths every year. Much of that debris comes from unsecured loads. The debris doesn't have to be large or heavy to kill you or your car.

ABC 6/FOX 28 photojournalist Donny Sobnosky knows all about that.

"I was coming down (State Route) 315 south and there was a white pickup truck ahead," he said. Inside that truck, was a shovel that suddenly came flying out, "and slid right underneath my car and it felt like there was a mini explosion that happened."

He quickly pulled over and saw the damage.

"There was just transmission fluid leaking everywhere and it looked like blood like somebody, you know, shot my car," he said. "Cut its throat, or something."

It cost $800 to repair his car.

To show how much road debris is out there, an ABC 6/Fox 28 news crew took a road trip in Delaware County. Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper Darius Roberts said Ohio law is clear.

"All vehicles, flatbeds, dump trucks, garbage trucks have to secure their load, either by a tarp or by means of straps," he said.

While many drivers follow the law, many others ignore it.

"These are the trucks that are notorious for unsecured loads," said Roberts as he drove up behind a dump truck. He said those trucks often unintentionally dump their loads as they go either because they don't use a tarp or have a defective tail gate.

"They have a little void to where gravel can do down and hit the ground and it bounces up on your windshield," he said.

As Trooper Roberts continued to follow the truck, he could hear sand hitting the windshield of his cruiser, which he said was leaking from the truck.

Sand isn't likely to damage your car, but other things might. Video taken by an ABC 6/FOX 28 producer showed wood chips flying out of a truck. They ended up getting stuck in the grill of her car. The video was shown to Trooper Roberts.

"(The driver) could have been stopped and issued a citation for an unsecured load," he said. That's a misdemeanor that carries a fine from $150 - $1,000. Since 2015, the OHP has written 1,297 citations for unsecured loads. Stark County had the most tickets with 54 being issued. Franklin County had just 29.

An ABC 6/FOX 28 news crew came across a four-foot construction level in the middle of US 23 and watched cars continually driving over it. The crew didn't want it to cause an accident, so they picked it up off the road and decided to use it for an experiment.

With the help of Battelle, our crew showed how even a construction level can become a missile on a highway.

"This is a cannon, basically the principal of a spud gun," said Mark Tackett as he showed off the 10-foot-long cannon he built for the experiment. He's a Master Ordnance Technician for Battelle, who tests explosives, missiles, and bombs.

The idea was to show what could have happened if that level had struck a windshield instead of landing on the ground. Tackett used six ounces of black powder to shoot the level into the windshield of a 1986 Honda at 53 miles per hour. The damage was devastating, passing through the windshield and slicing through a tarp meant to stop the level.

"That's a clean through-and-through," said reporter Kurt Ludlow as he looked at the windshield. [It] sure is," said Tackett.

It was obvious that anybody sitting behind that windshield as the two-and-a-half pound level flew through it would have been seriously injured or killed.

The experiment showed why it's so important to secure your loads.

The Ohio Insurance Institute offers tips for drivers in dealing with roadway debris:

  • The rougher the roadway, the greater the chance of a crash involving debris from a vehicle that has lost its load.
  • If you can’t avoid something in the road, it’s probably safer to hit it than to swerve and risk losing control of the car or hitting a car next to you. Hitting another car or road barrier increases risk of injury.
  • Take the time to properly secure a load, even for short trips. Test your cargo before you leave. If it moves or shifts, then do a better job of securing it. This is especially true of wind-catching items, such as plywood and mattresses.
  • Should you lose something from your vehicle, pull off to the side of the road where it’s safe and call 911.
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The OHP suggests you store #677 in your phone so you can quickly and easily call and report any debris you see on the road.

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