Newsroom | Ladders? Metal? Mattresses? Road Debris Can Be Deadly

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We have all been there. Driving down the highway when suddenly a tree branch, or ladder, or piece of metal suddenly appears in our lane. It can be scary and to some, deadly. Governor Doug Ducey has declared June 6th as Arizona Secure Your Load Day.

Ladders? Metal? Mattresses? Road Debris Can Be Deadly
June 6 “Secure Your Load Day” highlights need for safety when hauling

secure your load, transportation, safety, highway

We have all been there. Driving down the highway when suddenly a tree branch, or ladder, or piece of metal suddenly appears in our lane. It can be scary and to some, deadly. Governor Doug Ducey has declared June 6th as Arizona Secure Your Load Day.

The statistics are frightening:

  • More than 800 debris related crashes across the Maricopa region in 2021
  • 51,000 debris related crashes every year in the U.S.
  • Nearly 10,000 people injured
  • Seven deaths in Maricopa region in 2021
Road debris removed from Phoenix area freeways within a few days

More Than A Number

They are only numbers, and numbers don’t tell the entire story. Those seven deaths were people. They had families and friends who are also devasted by the loss of someone close. Secure Your Load Day falls on the anniversary of the death of 29-year-old Matthew Reif. He lost his life when a piece of metal pierced through his windshield, killing him instantly. It happened on June 6, 2006, on a stretch of Hunt Highway.

Mesa Police Detective Nick Cureton was on his way to an event in April when a piece of metal smashed through his windshield while he was heading west on the US 60 in Mesa. “I was in the HOV lane, and all of a sudden something came through my windshield, and I didn’t exactly know what it was,” said Det. Cureton. “I felt instantly shards of glass hit me in the face, and then something hit me in the ribs.” Thankfully, that debris did not impale him. “I feel that I am incredibly fortunate that I’m the one who experienced that, and not anyone else.”

Detective Cureton said he had numerous medical appointments to flush and treat the glass in his eyes.

Mesa Police Detective struck by road debris interviewed by local media

Would You Feel Safe Behind Your Own Vehicle?

Avondale Mayor Ken Weise, vice chair of the Maricopa Association of Governments, shared a similar story of what road debris did to his family. His wife and young children were on their way to Flagstaff for a camping trip when he received an unexpected call from his wife. “She left our home in Avondale, and about 35 minutes later I get a phone call, and she’s crying, and I said, ‘what happened?’ and she said, ‘we’re driving up to Flagstaff on 17 north of Bell Road and there’s a ladder in the middle of the road and I hit it, and I had to swerve,’ and she was sobbing.”

It turns out that a car in front of her hit the ladder sending it up into the air. Thankfully, everyone was okay. “If that ladder had been in the middle of the road, it would be a different story we are talking about today,” said Mayor Weise.

Arizona Department of Transportation Deputy Director Kismet Weiss said ADOT crews pick up tons of trash and debris from highways every year. She noted that one simple question would help solve some of that problem.

“A really great question to ask yourself when you are getting ready to go on a trip is, ‘would I feel safe driving behind my own vehicle?’”

Avondale Mayor and MAG Vice Chair, Ken Weise share road debris story

Taking Time May Save Someone's Life

“We need to be more empathetic about everything we do,” said Arizona Department of Public Safety Director Heston Silbert. “Taking that extra time to tie down a load, get the proper equipment to secure a load, may save the life of someone else. The sad irony of it is the person who doesn’t secure their load is probably the person who won’t be affected.”

Detective Cureton summed it up this way: “One of the things I get asked all the time is, ‘do we know who it was, or where did that item come from?’ I have no idea where that roof rack came from. Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever know. And I think that is one of the other unfortunate parts, because I would like to be able to have a conversation with that individual and then try and see how it is that maybe we can educate them a little bit better.”

ADOT Incident Response Unit truck and road debris

Published June 6, 2022

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