In the past four years, more than 200,000 crashes involved debris on U.S. roadways, according to a study released this month by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

As the summer heat becomes slightly less oppressive and the first splash of color begins to show in the trees, the Lane Ranger knows that right around the corner is a great caravan of, well, Grand Caravans loaded down with cargo.

With trunks and bags and even mattresses strapped to the roofs, these civilian troop transports will be bearing down on such destinations as Syracuse, Geneva, Ithaca, Rochester and, yes, Canandaigua.

That’s right. The College Crush is drawing near.

And with it comes this re-emphasized warning from AAA: Make sure those mattresses are properly secured.

In the past four years, more than 200,000 crashes involved debris on U.S. roadways, according to a study released this month by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Road debris has resulted in approximately 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths between 2011 and 2014, stated AAA, which is urging drivers to properly secure their loads to prevent dangerous debris.

This is especially important, the national auto club noted, as families pack up their cars and prepare to take their children back to college.

AAA researchers examined common characteristics of crashes involving road debris and found the following:

Nearly 37 percent of all deaths in road debris crashes resulted from the driver swerving to avoid hitting an object. Overcorrecting at the last minute to avoid debris can increase a driver’s risk of losing control of his or her vehicle.
More than one in three crashes involving debris occurred between 10 a.m. and 3:59 p.m., a time when many people are on the road hauling or moving heavy items such as furniture or construction equipment.
Debris-related crashes are much more likely to occur on interstate highways. Driving at high speeds increases the risk for vehicle parts to become detached or cargo to fall onto the roadway.

“This new report shows that road debris can be extremely dangerous, but all of these crashes are preventable,” Jurek Grabowski, research director for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, said in a release announcing the study results. “Drivers can easily save lives and prevent injuries by securing their loads and taking other simple precautions to prevent items from falling off the vehicle.”

According to AAA, drivers can decrease their chances of being involved in a road debris crash by following these steps:

Drivers should have their vehicles checked regularly by trained mechanics. Badly worn or underinflated tires often suffer blowouts that can leave pieces of tire on the roadway. Exhaust systems and the hardware that attach to the vehicle also can rust and corrode, causing mufflers and other parts to drag and eventually break loose. Potential tire and exhaust system problems can easily be spotted by trained mechanics as part of the routine maintenance performed during every oil change. 
Tie down the load with rope, netting or straps.
Tie large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer.
Cover the entire load with a sturdy tarp or netting.
Don’t overload the vehicle.
Always double-check the load to make sure it is secure.

“Continually searching the road at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead can help drivers be prepared in the case of debris,” William Van Tassel, manager of Driver Training Programs for AAA, said in the release. “Always try to maintain open space on at least one side of your vehicle in case you need to steer around an object. If you see you are unable to avoid debris on the roadway, safely reduce your speed as much as possible before making contact.”

Lane Ranger is a weekly column that runs every Saturday in the Daily Messenger exploring answers and solutions to the road problems shared by our readers. If you have questions or observations or just wish to sound off on your commute, send your comments to or call 585-337-4264.