THURSDAY, Aug. 11, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- If you've ever swerved to avoid hitting road debris (and who hasn't?), the chilling results of a new traffic safety study may make you shudder.
Road debris caused more than 200,000 crashes on U.S. roads between 2011 and 2014, resulting in about 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths, according to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Crashes involving vehicle-related debris are up 40 percent since the foundation first began studying the issue in 2001.
Nearly 37 percent of all deaths in road debris-related crashes occur when a driver swerves to avoid hitting an object, an action that heightens the risk of losing control of a vehicle, the study found.
More than one-third of crashes involving road debris occur during the middle of the day, between 10 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., the findings showed. This is when many people are hauling or moving heavy items, such as furniture or construction equipment.
And, because high speeds increase the risk of vehicle parts or cargo falling onto the pavement, debris-related crashes are far more likely to occur on highways, the study authors noted in a foundation news release.
"This new report shows that road debris can be extremely dangerous but all of these crashes are preventable," said Jurek Grabowski, the AAA foundation's research director.
"Drivers can easily save lives and prevent injuries by securing their loads and taking other simple precautions to prevent items from falling off the vehicle," he added.
In about two-thirds of debris-related crashes, improper maintenance or improperly secured loads are the reasons why items fall from a vehicle. The most common types of vehicle debris are: parts, such as tires; unsecured cargo, such as furniture and appliances; and trailers that separate from the tow vehicle, the AAA said.
Jennifer Ryan, director of state relations for AAA, said that "drivers have a much bigger responsibility when it comes to preventing debris on the roads than most realize. It's important for drivers to know that many states have hefty fines and penalties for drivers who drop items from their vehicle onto the roadway, and in some cases states impose jail time."
William Van Tassel is manager of driver training programs for AAA. He suggests that drivers continually search the road at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead so they will be prepared.
"Always try to maintain open space on at least one side of your vehicle in case you need to steer around an object. If you see you are unable to avoid debris on the roadway, safely reduce your speed as much as possible before making contact," he said.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more on driving safety.