Houston's road debris becoming a growing safety concern

Road debris can be a terrifying problem that can pop up at any time of your daily driving, and it's becoming a big problem in the Houston area.

"Daily, we pick up anywhere between 2 to 5 cubic yards of material," said Robert Henry, a member of a TxDOT road debris cleanup crew.

The Texas Department of Public Transportation patrols the roads every day, hunting down road debris that could create a traffic-halting headache.

Henry says he's collected just about anything you can think of -- from furniture, such as sofas and mattresses, to kids items like cribs and bikes, to household appliances such as refrigerators, AC units and BBQ pits.

When our ABC13 crew rode along with TxDOT down the Southwest Freeway, we found tires or tire treads in three spots during just ten minutes of patrolling.

In the last six months, dangerous debris has caused several crashes or near-misses on our highways. In September, a metal pipe smashed a car's windshield on the North Freeway. It was just inches from impaling the driver.

In October, a trailer hitch blasted through another driver's window on I-45.

In November, sheets of plywood on I-10 East shut down the freeway for hours. Thankfully in each of these incidents, no one was injured.

It's not just large objects on the road that can cause problems for drivers. Something as small as a nail can create huge hazards for drivers.

"I ran over a nail strip once, and I had like 50 nails in both of my tires. I have a picture of it. I've always kept it actually," said driver Mike Roberts.

From 2011 to 2014, AAA reports that road debris played a role in more than 200,000 crashes, 39,000 injuries, and 500 deaths. Between 2016 to 2017, Texas roads saw a more than 22 percent increase in serious crashes that involved an unsecured load.

"Nine times out of ten, these owners don't even know they're dropping the items that they're hauling," said Henry.

TxDOT and AAA offered several tips to help keep you from becoming the victim of a road debris crash.
  • Be alert- put the phone down, and keep both hands on the steering wheel.

  • Remember to maintain a safe following distance of at least 2-3 seconds so you can react if something comes crashing toward your windshield.

  • Don't over-correct- Nearly 37% of all deaths in road debris crashes resulted from the driver swerving to avoid hitting an object.

There's a certain kind of road debris that is more common this time of year: hardware and construction material. Many homeowners tackle DIY projects in the early spring and don't have experience with properly tying down loads. If you are hauling large loads, make sure you are using heavy-duty straps. You can get a four pack at the hardware store for just $20.
Copyright © 2021 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.