A colleague of mine was hauling one of those large plastic toddler play houses in the back of her truck recently, when suddenly the roof of the house blew off right onto the roadway, causing traffic behind her to swerve into other lanes to avoid crashing into the roof. She pulled over and retrieved the runaway roof, thankfully avoiding injury to herself or other drivers.
The incident prompted a conversation about injuries and accidents from escaping debris. Who is responsible? What role does insurance play? And just what would have been the legal consequences to my colleague if that roof had caused an accident and injury in North Carolina? Points on her license? A fine? Traffic court? Jail?
Road Debris Causes Numerous Crashes Says AAA
A recent AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study found that unsecured loads falling off cars and trucks have been blamed for more than 200,000 crashes on U.S. roads between 2011 and 2014. There were 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths from those incidents during that time.
More than a third of those deaths occurred because drivers swerved to avoid the debris.
Roadway debris can be a serious matter. One of our clients was severely injured in a life-altering way because of roadway debris.
What NC Law Says About Debris on NC Roads
Drivers responsible for creating road debris can face fines in every U.S state. All 50 states have laws that make unsecured loads illegal, according to AAA, with fines that range from $10 to $5,000. North Carolina’s fines are capped at $100.
North Carolina says you must properly secure all items on a vehicle. If you don’t and you cause an accident, you may be held liable. Specifically NC law states:
“No vehicle shall be driven or moved on any highway unless the vehicle is constructed and loaded to prevent any of its load from falling, blowing, dropping, sifting, leaking, or otherwise escaping therefrom, and the vehicle shall not contain any holes, cracks, or openings through which any of its load may escape.”
Legal penalties for infraction are determined by the degree of the infraction. It could be misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the degree of willful negligence.
Will Auto Insurance Cover Road Debris Accidents?
But what about auto insurance? Will it pay for your damages or injuries if you crash as a result of running into or trying to swerve from road debris? In many instances, yes.
Crashing Into an Object
If your vehicle is damaged from running into or running over an object in the road, then your collision coverage should most likely pay for repairs.
Flying Objects That Land on Your Car
If the object flies through the air and hits your car, then your comprehensive coverage may come into play.
If you or a passenger are injured, personal injury protection or medical payments would likely pay for treatment of injuries.
Getting the At-Fault Driver to Pay
If the accident was the result of someone failing to secure a load, you may be able to make a claim against the other driver’s liability insurance.
It’s always prudent to file a police report, which can help establish the facts for your insurance claim.
Road Debris Safety Tips
If You Are Driving
- Try to look farther than two or three cars ahead, so you potentially have time to change lanes before you reach a hazard.
- In many instances it can be safer to hit the debris than to swerve to try to avoid it. (Remember that more than a third of road debris deaths occurred from swerving.)
- If you’re on a roadway at night (and it’s not foggy and there’s no traffic), drive with your high beams on so you can potentially spot debris in the road.
- Call 911 to report hazards in the roadway.
If You Are Carrying a Load
- Properly secure the load on your vehicle. Test your cargo before you leave. If it moves, secure it better.
- If you lose something, pull to the side of the road where it is safe and call 911. Keep your seatbelt fastened until help arrives.
Get Free Advice From Experienced NC Road Debris Lawyers
Proving liability can be tricky because North Carolina laws on road debris can be vague and leave lots of room for interpretation. Based on our experience in fighting the insurance companies for compensation for damages and injuries, we strongly advise getting an experienced roadway debris lawyer.