How Dangerous is Road Debris?

4 Minutes Read

We’ve all been there before – driving along without a care in the world, when suddenly, there’s a tire, a tree branch, or even a sofa in the road in front of us. It can seem totally random, but road debris and the damage it can cause are more common than you may think. How dangerous is road debris? What types are on the roads? Where does it all come from? What kind of damage can it do to you or your car? Keep reading for the answers to all of these questions.

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The Dangers of Road Debris

The danger caused by debris in the road can result in physical, emotional, and major financial damage for drivers. A number of studies have been completed to review the issues caused by items cluttering American roads, including research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The Foundation reported that there were over 200,000 debris-related car accidents in the U.S. between 2011 and 2014, resulting in more than 500 deaths. The AAA estimates that there are more than 51,000 debris-related auto accidents in the U.S. every year, causing 10,000 injuries. In Arizona, the Department of Public Safety reported that approximately 1,000 debris-related accidents happen across the state every year.

Types of Dangerous Road Debris

The trash that collects on the sides of the road, on median strips, or traffic islands comes in many types. Sometimes, on lesser travelled roads, you might even find it in the middle of your drive lane. Items that gather in or along the road can cause vehicle damage that might include punctured tires, issues with the undercarriage, paint scratches, or broken windows. Keep an eye out for the following common types of road debris:

Vehicle Parts

Hubcaps, mufflers, and bumpers are frequently seen on the side of the road. These items are often left as a result of a collision or they may have fallen from a car that has not been properly maintained. Keep your distance when you see abandoned car parts. If you hit something like a hubcap or muffler pipe, it can cause severe damage to your vehicle or become airborne and injure you, your passengers, or another driver.

Tree Branches

Branches, twigs, and even whole trees can cover roads after high winds and storms. While the majority of small sticks and branches are passible, larger limbs can cause serious issues. Drivers may swerve to avoid bigger branches or cross the median to go around the blockage. This can lead to accidents or hitting other road debris. Splintered wood can bounce up from the road and cause tire or undercarriage damage.

Rocks or Boulders

Rocks and boulders can get deposited on roadways by falling from trucks or trailers, or from being washed there during storms. Hitting a large rock with your car will cause extensive damage and potentially injure you and your passengers. Smaller rocks can fly into the air after being run over, hitting your vehicles or others, and sending you to the auto body repair shop or the hospital!


Glass is another common type of road debris. Littering, broken bottles, or car windshields from old accidents cause a major hazard on highways and streets. Your tire treads can be damaged if you drive over broken glass, or an accident can be caused if you swerve to keep from hitting the glass.


Old tires and pieces of tires are a common item seen along roadways. When a vehicle’s tire blows, pieces of it are left behind on the road. These pieces of tire can be very slippery or they can fly up and hit your car. In addition, drivers may try to swerve to avoid the tire and cause an accident.

Construction Waste

Construction waste, like cones, barrels, bricks, and more can end up as road debris, too. Crews working on streets and highways sometimes leave items behind or high winds or rain can move items from work areas. Running over construction waste can flatten your tires, damage your paint, fly up and break a window, or cause an accident.

Downed Poles

Storms, vehicle crashes, and aging materials can cause light or electric poles to fall into roadways. Downed poles can lead to backups, heavy traffic, and other issues, especially if power lines or live wires are also in the road. Avoiding downed poles and wires can protect you and your car from injury and damage.


Even though there are laws against littering, you always see trash alongside roads. Drivers and others insist on throwing garbage from their vehicles. Cans, food, diapers, and more can cause motorists to swerve to keep from hitting this debris. Items can also become airborne if hit by a car and fly up into other vehicles, causing accidents, injuries, and damage to vehicles.

What Are Common Sources of Road Debris?

Poorly maintained vehicles, unsecured cargo, and improperly attached tow trailers are some of the most common sources of road debris.

Vehicle Parts

Vehicle parts like mufflers, bumpers, and hubcaps litter many an American road. If a vehicle is not being properly maintained, it is more likely to pop a tire, lose its muffler, or drop other parts along the highway.

Unsecured Cargo

Trucks hauling cargo need to have their loads properly secured. If it is not secure, items can fly from the back of the truck, hitting other vehicles, littering the roadways, and causing damage to other cars or even causing accidents. Items like produce, furniture, and lumber can become road debris from unsecured cargo vehicles.

Tow Trailers

Just like unsecured cargo, tow trailers can lose their loads if unbalanced, or even become unhitched from their vehicle. The trailer itself or the items in the trailer will litter the road and become hazards for other drivers.

How Can Road Debris Damage Your Car?

The biggest issue with all of these types of road debris is the damage they can cause. Not only to your car, but to yourself and your passengers as well. You could:

  • Pop a tire
  • Damage the undercarriage
  • Damage the auto body paint
  • Crack the windshield
  • Cause an accident
  • Suffer serious injuries
  • Lose your life

Has Your Car Been Damaged By Road Debris? Our Auto Body Repair Shop in Flagstaff Can Help Repair It!

Try as you might to avoid all of these types of road debris, sometimes you cannot help but hit or run over an item. If you do, and suffer damage to your vehicle, Flagstaff Collision Center is here to help. A trusted member of the community with an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau, our skilled technicians are the ones to trust with your car or truck. Our eco-friendly facility and emphasis on OEM parts make us the auto collision shop you need. Contact us today or whenever you need us to find out what makes us the premier auto body repair and car collision center in Northern Arizona!

Michael Whittemore