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Last Modified: March 1, 2023

How to Safely Clear Road Debris

Published on January 18, 2016 • Last updated March 1, 2023 by Ken Christensen
Topics: Being Safe in Utah (General Safety)

Just a couple of months ago, a father and daughter were killed in a car accident caused in part by something unexpected: a doghouse left in the middle of the freeway. This may seem like a freak accident, but road debris in many forms are fairly common and very dangerous. One study found that debris causes about 25,000 accidents every year. The vast majority of these obstacles are things like mattresses and ladders which fall off of moving cars. This is a difficult problem to solve, as most of the time the drivers of these cars have no idea that they’ve lost anything. It is important, therefore, to know what to do if you come across debris on the road or if you notice that you’ve lost something yourself.

Should I Move it Myself?

NO, you shouldn’t. But there are several things you should do. Following an accident involving road debris, we asked the Utah Highway Patrol what their suggestions were for this very situation. They responded with some great advice:

If you know you’ve lost something, don’t leave

  • Like any accident, sticking around and taking responsibility is something you are legally expected to do. If you leave and your lost item causes an accident or any kind of damage to other cars or people, you can be charged with a crime.

As always, safety first

fallen tree in road

  • Whether you lose something yourself or come across road debris, safety is the most important thing to think about. If something falls from your vehicle, find a safe place out of the travel lanes to stop. Do not try to back up. This is illegal and very dangerous. Just pull off to a safe place and stay there.
  • If you are driving and there is debris on the road, assess the situation. Only try to avoid it if you can do so safely. If it is small and fragile, it may be better to just hit the object than to try and swerve out of its way. If neither of these options is safe, just stop or pull over if you can.

Call 911

  • For those who lose something, the next step after stopping safely is to notify the people who can help: the highway patrol. They will come and remove the object.
  • If the debris causes traffic to stop, as was the case with the doghouse in the story above, and you can safely do so, call 911. Even if it seems likely that someone already has, it’s best to make sure that the proper authorities are notified.

Do not try to move it yourself

  • This will only make things worse. The troopers will come once 911 is called, and they know how to take care of the situation safely. They will know how best to control traffic and retrieve the object quickly.

If you lost something, talk to the troopers

  • Since you are stopped close by, the authorities will come to you and let you know what to do. If the object is still intact and you want it back, they’ll let you know how that can be taken care of.

These steps require caution and patience, but if followed, situations with road debris can be limited to what they should be—minor disturbances. Panicking and trying to take matters into your own hands will just complicate the problem. So remember, if you lose something or have an obstacle in your way, be safe, and if necessary, call the authorities.


Photo copyright to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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