When there’s no room to “duck and cover”

I’ve had a couple of hairy experiences with road debris being flung up by vehicles ahead of me, striking my car.  It’s no fun at all, and often very scary because one can’t always turn the wheel to dodge the oncoming missile.  A few years ago, Miss D. and I were in a rented vehicle on an interstate when a truck ahead of us kicked up a large piece of gravel.  It seemed to move in slow motion as we watched it coming right into our windscreen, as if we had a bullseye target painted on our car.  There was traffic on either side of us, so we had nowhere to go.  It put a large, star-shaped crack in our windscreen as it bounced off with a heck of a bang.  (Fortunately, we always pay for extended insurance cover on rented vehicles, so we were able to hand in the car and get a replacement with no financial penalty.  Useful, that!)

I was reminded of that by this video clip.

That’s far from rare, of course, as this report reminds us.

Be careful out there, friends . . . and if you’re carrying anything in the load bed of your pickup, please, please tie it down securely!



  1. I saw a display board in my area with the message asking people to secure their loads, that the highway patrol is out for those who do not.

    It appears to be an issue that the highway patrol is finally responding to in my state.

  2. It is amazing what will blow/loft out of the back of open bed trucks. Some of it may bounce out, but a lot of it is due to air flow and surface area of the object.
    The most surprising object I have cleared from a freeway was a brand new full size couch, still wrapped in plastic, sitting on it's feet smack in the center of #280 in San Jose. I put my push bumper against it and pushed it to the shoulder. My beat partner told me it was gone 10 minutes later. Which is unusual, as virtually no one ever returns to look for their lost items.
    Either they have no idea where/when it was lost, or they are afraid of the possible liability of potential damage or crashes involving it. In CA, you are only liable while the object is still moving. Once it has slid to a stop, if you hit it, you are liable.

  3. Will, you are assuming it was picked up by the original owner and not just someone that said "hey, free new couch".

  4. Having worked three 'incidents' over the years where people died, I'm VERY paranoid about following too close, and I always try to give myself and out…

  5. JNorth:

    In 5 years of patrolling freeways, I found virtually no one would return for lost objects, or stop and grab items litering the shoulders, let alone the lanes.
    Of course, most of that could be attributed to the objects being damaged very quickly by following traffic, but some actually survived to make it to the shoulder relatively unscathed. Ladders almost never survive, and quicky become a cleanup mess. Same for box springs.

    Other than drunks and front wheel drive cars, I would rate lost wheels as a significant threat. Most are due to improper installation, but the ones that come off the rear axle of lifted pickups is typically due to overstressed wheel studs. Those oversized tires (very tall) require upgraded studs to handle the increased forces that are generated. Typically all the force is being held by the studs directly, as most of those mags do not fit the center spigot of the axle shaft.
    One incident I handled had one of those bounce over the center divide and hit a Honda sedan in the engine. Destroyed the car, but the mother and several children were not injured. Broke that wheel in three pieces. Car looked like it had hit a tree. Similar situation nearly got a beat partner one night on his way home. Said he saw something flash overhead, and the following car wobbled and turned into the center divide wall. Wheel assembly went through the windshield and decapitated the woman driving.

  6. On northern urban freeways (the Twin Cities in my case), think about the common occurance of hundred pound chunks (or sheets) of ice and snow coming off vehicles. At speed. And you are locked in traffic and can't avoid it…..

    Peter, I feel your pain.

  7. I watched a car tire drop out of the sky right on top of me. A car in the opposite lane lost a front tire. It climbed right up the concrete divider between the lanes and launched itself into the air. It looked like a bird dropping out of the sky. Fortunately, I was driving a pickup truck. The tire landed on the hood and rolled right at me. By the grace of God it hit the roof pillar instead of the windshield. I watched it bounce down the road in my rear view mirror instead of having it in my lap. New front quarter panel, new hood, new mirror, new drivers door panel, new rear quarter panel and the truck was as good as new.

  8. re: Front Wheel Drive cars.

    I regularly encountered single car accidents where the car had spun off the road. Eventually, I was able to reconstruct the process by looking at the scene, and questioning the drivers. Took a while to realize I was seeing a recurring problem. (Driver's memories can be erratic following an accident, and impacting sound walls and other objects tends to rattle people.) What got my attention was I kept seeing crashes in the same exact locations.

    My conclusion was that I was seeing the influence of "torque steer" in the early moments of the loss of control.
    The locations had an exit that came into view suddenly. What the drivers were doing was taking their foot off the throttle and turning the wheel at the same time, in the effort to make the exit lane before missing it. This combination seems to cause oversteer, at the same time it transfers weight from the rear tires to the front. Most of them were in the left lanes, so they were trying to shift multiple lanes, hence the harder than normal control inputs by the driver. The back end would break loose, and away they would go. (Most drivers don't practice any sort of beyond normal maneuvering, so when it happens inadvertently, they are clueless)

    Most of the time, there were little to no injuries. Not so in one case, where witnesses stated the car had been moving much faster than traffic. She exited the roadway further down the road than typical, taking out a lightpole with the driver's door, bouncing off the soundwall, spinning around and finally dropping into the ditch that fronted the wall. The dent from the pole extended nearly to the passenger seat. She died instantly. Most crashes there they just slid into the ditch, if they even made it that far off the road. Most of these crashes were in dry conditions.

  9. This is a hot-button issue for me.

    Look around you next time you're on the freeway. See all of that trash and junk on the sides of the road? Most of it, the vast majority of it, comes out of the back of a truck – most likely a pickup. If you see a cardboard box or a 5 gallon bucket sitting there in the median. Nobody threw that out of a car window.

    People who fail to secure their loads are a much greater danger to the motoring public than someone going 10mph over the speed limit, and I see it all the time. Some people are too stupid to realize that if you are traveling down the highway at 70 mph, there is a hurricane force wind across that open bed. Some people just don't care. If I were in charge, failure to secure the load would be a moving violation with a heavy fine and a "stop right there, park it, and do not proceed." until that load is secured. If that means you have to sit there until someone comes with the proper tie-down equipment, then that's just too bad.

    And don't even get me started on those assholes who use the bed of their truck as a trash can, and then proceed onto the freeway spewing their detritus all over the landscape. $500 fine for littering? Yeah, that seems about right. Now if we could just get a few of them pulled over and ticketed.

    How many times have you come across the large bucket of paint sitting on the side of the road and a huge splash of said paint covering 100yards of roadway. Imagine being behind that goof when he loses that bucket. You don't have to be tailgating for it to ruin your day. You don't even have to be in the same lane.

    I once had an entire air conditioner – still in its box – fly out of a pickup bed sideways when the road curved sharply. He was in the right lane, I was in the left. It shifted and flipped over the bed wall right in front of me. I saw it and anticipated it but was still not able to stop in time before I clobbered the AC unit and destroyed it. Fortunately, the very little bit of damage to my van was confined to the front bumper.

    Yeah, hot-button issue.

  10. Things I have encountered from unsecured loads…

    Was driving at night on the interstate when the car in front of me suddenly locked its brakes. He hit a piece of 4×4 lumber cross ways which proceeded to go airborne in front of *me*. Fortunately, I was far enough behind that I was able to dodge it successfully. Had I been in heavy traffic, not so much.

    Was stuck behind a flatbed truck (not a semi) which had a stack of old tires piled up on it. He only had some string or twine holding the stack on. It failed all at once and everyone on the road – both directions – was suddenly dodging tires. One car went off the road trying to avoid that mess.

    Was traveling on the interstate in the downtown area of a major city when a wheel came flying over the divider wall. It struck the pavement right in front of me, bounced up and clear over the top of my car and struck the car behind me on the hood. No one was hurt, but the ensuing traffic jam was stupendous. Did I mention that I had a hard time pulling the seat cushion out of my …?

  11. More…

    Now, this is not unsecured load related, but this is no …

    I was traveling northbound on Interstate 71 about halfway between Louisville and Cincinnati. In front of me about a 1/4 mile ahead was a truck pulling an empty flatbed trailer. Suddenly one of the trailer wheels came off. The wheel veered left and crossed the northbound lanes of the interstate. It then proceeded into the ditch between the north and southbound lanes. It had enough momentum to jump up and nearly clear the southbound lanes. It continued across the southbound lanes and climbed the high-wall cut on the other side. However, it lost its momentum before it topped the high-wall and came right back down. It picked up speed and again cleared *both* sides of the interstate until it crossed in front of me again and struck the guardrail on the right side. Of course, by that time I had slowed way down trying to anticipate where the thing was going to end up. The funny thing was the guy pulling the trailer that lost the wheel in the first place was able to pull off within about 100 feet of where the wheel finally came to rest.

  12. As far as the biker that hit the yellow roll, he made no real attempt to avoid it. Lots of riders don't actually know how a bike steers, and his half-hearted movement indicates he is one of them.

    It's funny, sort of, but I've had arguments with bikers that claim that they steer by them leaning to the side they want to go. They are kinda-sorta correct, but not for the reasons they think, and that method leaves them with no emergency maneuvering capability. Lots of crashes due to this. They hit things they could have easily avoided.

    The technique is to push the bar end on the side you want to turn toward. The harder you push that end, and pull the other, the faster you initiate a turn. When I was on the track, I was often doing this as hard/fast as I could, boosting it by literally throwing my body to the inside to move that handlebar as fast as possible.

    At a Keith Code Superbike class, Keith made the statement that you couldn't oversteer a bike doing this on dry pavement. He said one of his students had taken the class on a chopper, and was yanking on the bars so hard that you could see the front forks flex/twist.

    You CAN make the front tire slide in the rain, with the wrong conditions. BT;DT (Lots of fun on Laguna Seca Raceway, for various values of "fun".)

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