SPECIAL REPORT: Road debris hazards

Sgt. Jeff Jones with Iowa Vehicle Enforcement looks for any weak links in the chains securing a load on a semi stopped at the Brandon weigh station on I-380. He says he'll pull trucks off the road immediately if they don't meet strict safety standards because at 70 mph something falling onto the road can kill.

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) - It could be college kids moving furniture back home, a construction crew taking a load of plywood to a job site or someone with a new mattress tied to the roof of their car. They're all scenarios that have ended in death for innocent drivers following close behind. A recent survey by AAA shows during a three year period, highway debris, falling off from vehicles and being kicked up off the pavement caused more than 200,000 crashes and at least 500 deaths.

Watching more than 400 highway cameras from the Iowa DOT Traffic Management Center near Ankeny, Director Bonnie Castillo says you wouldn't believe what they see hit the interstates, " It is very dangerous, couches, chairs, furniture, dressers, toys, basically anything that you don't tie down has the potential of coming out of your vehicle."

She says IDOT crews and Highway Helper employees pick up hundreds of items every single day. Some of them say they've found recliners and sofas sitting right in the middle of the interstate, bedroom chests and once, a desk and chair sitting upright, like someone had carefully placed them in the right hand lane of traffic. Any of it could be deadly at 70 mph on impact or cause a driver to swerve into the ditch or hit a semi. The faces behind the statistics include a pregnant mom near Chicago, killed when a tire crashed through her windshield, a Walcott, Iowa man who died when a car part came through the glass on I-80 and a young woman who is now the symbol of change in the "Secure Your Load" movement which is gaining support in Iowa.

Maria Federici was 100 feet from her exit, returning home one evening, when an entertainment center fell off a truck ahead of her and a piece of particle board sliced through her windshield. Her mother, Robin Abel, says it left Maria blind, with some brain damage and requiring multiple reconstructive facial surgeries, " It's been 14 years and as soon as you mention it I start to cry. My daughter was almost completely decapitated that night and it was only because I donated her organs that they kept her alive and because they kept her alive she lived." Robin has now championed the movement called " Secure Your Load." It's awareness and education that's spreading all across the country. Just last week she contacted Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds to join the effort. Robin says we learn to wear seat belts and secure children in car seats, but she says nobody teaches us how to tie down a load of furniture, " Our lives will never be the same and the only reason I do this is so no other family will get that call. "

Along I-380, Sgt. Jeff Jones with Motor Vehicle Enforcement is committed to that goal as well. He's carefully watching flatbed semis pull slowly into the truck scales. Everything from giant combines to huge air conditioning units to bails of hay travel past on thousands of trucks ever day. He's looking for the weakest link in chains and making sure straps are secured and meet all the requirements for the heavy loads. If they don't, he can pull the vehicle off the road immediately, "The reason being is because if something falls off a truck there's a high likelihood somebody's going to get seriously injured or even die. "

Jones says most commercial drivers do a great job, but he still sees things that scare him. Recent examples include huge tires just stacked on the bed of a truck with nothing to prevent them from rolling off and a giant steel coil which slid off a truck in Tama, " It weighed probably 50-thousand pounds and he came around a corner and it fell off his trailer. He travels that route a lot and told me there's almost always a car sitting in that turn lane. If there had been a car there that day it would have most likely been a fatality accident, it would have crushed that car."

Robin Abel says as people are out, loading their belongings into pickups to move across town or across the state or putting home improvement supplies in their trucks, she just wants them to stop and think about doing it safely, " I would ask that you secure your load as if everyone you love is driving in the car behind you." For more information on the national Secure Your Load campaign click here and click here.

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