Road debris on the rise in Houston area


In December of 2010, Fort Bend County Deputy John Norsworthy was rushing to a traffic stop when he tried to avoid road debris. He lost control and crashed, dying a week later from his injuries.

There were more than 700 debris-related accidents last year, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. And that doesn't include those not reported to police.

"Suddenly, I heard this big crashing sound and it turned out to be a wooden pallet on the road," driver Al Zolli said.

Zolli was driving on 45 South when he hit a wooden pallet.

"It cost me a $500 deductible. It was like $800 and somewhat in damage," he said.

Alex Flenner's accident was much worse.

"You're talking an 8-foot steel, 4-inch pipe with a 14-inch flange on it. That was enough to get up under the car, lift the oil pan and just spin me around like a top," driver Alex Flenner said.

He lost control of his car and slammed into another vehicle.

"Total accident with bodily claims, it was approaching $70,000," Flenner said.

Since then, Flenner's insurance premiums have gone up nearly 15 percent.

"In the past several months, we've noticed an increase in windshield claims, front car damage due to debris in the roadways," State Farm agent Theo Franklin said.

So where is all the debris coming from?

"They're not strapping it down properly, they're not putting tarps or any kind of device to keep those items in their vehicle," TxDOT Spokesman Danny Perez said.

Perez says many drivers carrying loads like furniture or auto parts are not taking the precautionary measures needed.

"Unfortunately when they're driving, the wind, high speeds, those things do fly out," Perez said.

If you're caught with an unsecured load you can be ticketed and fined up to $500.

HPD's truck enforcement division conducts spot inspections once a month.

"We do look for the proper load securement to ensure by weight and by length that the vehicle is, what's it's carrying, is not gonna move," said Sgt. Teresa Curry with the HPD Truck Enforcement division.

So is TxDOT really doing enough to keep the highways clear of debris?

Perez tells us there are between three to five vehicles that go out daily, monitoring and clearing Houston's highways. They also spend approximately $3 million a year on hired contractors.

But consider this, in most cases if you hit the debris, you take the blame.

"The law requires that you keep a safe distance between cars and that you're looking out in the roadway to see if there's anything in your path," Franklin said.

That means you're responsible for your repairs, unless you can prove where it came from.

"In cases where someone is right in front of you. Something drops right off of their truck or car, it's important for the customer to get the license plate number of the vehicle so we can go after that individual," Franklin said.

In the end, avoiding dangerous debris is in your hands.

"And if you're behind it, you just don't know what that object is. You assume the worst and you just start scattering," Zolli said.

The Texas Department of Transportation says if you see debris on the highway, call 3-1-1 or call them directly to report objects on the road. This way if something needs immediate attention, it can be addressed as quickly as possible.

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