PHOENIX -- Litter on the freeways is not just ugly and often inconvenient, it's potentially deadly.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, falling debris from unsecured loads is responsible for nearly 25,000 accidents each year in North America, resulting in nearly 90 fatalities annually.
Maricopa County is not immune.
"On average, one person dies in Maricopa County from dangerous road debris each year," Mesa Mayor and Maricopa Association of Governments Chair Scott Smith said in a news release. "Not only does roadway debris cost us in innocent lives and serious traffic accidents, it also costs us many hours of wasted time due to traffic delays."
According to Smith, research shows that Valley drivers spend an average of 49 hours -- longer than the typical work week -- sitting in traffic every year. That translates to about $1.3 billion in lost productivity.
In addition to that lost productivity, there's the cost of cleaning up the litter -- about $3 million and nearly 150,000 labor hours each year, according to Don't Trash Arizona, an anti-litter campaign put on by MAG and the Arizona Department of Transportation.
While all traffic delays are frustrating, some of them are unavoidable. Many, however, can be prevented with a few easy precautions.
"It is even more frustrating when those delays are caused by commuter carelessness. These accidents could be prevented if drivers would just take that extra couple of minutes to properly secure their loads," he said.
Don't Trash Arizona is designed to educate people about the potential hazards of roadway littering. That goal in mind, they compiled a list of 1- most common types of dangerous debris found on Valley highways.
- Tire Alligators
- Couch and Chair Cushions
- Bed Liners
- Camper Shells
- Plastic Patio Chairs
- Sheet Metal and Insulation
"With Don’t Trash Arizona, our job is to change attitudes, awareness, and most importantly, behavior, when it comes to roadway littering," reads DontTrashAZ.com.
Don't Trash Arizona has several tips for motorists to help keep the roadways clear of dangerous debris.
Tie it down
Large and heavy items should be firmly secured with solid straps, rope, bungee cords, or netting. These items should be tied down directly to the vehicle and be able to withstand winds of 70 mph on the freeway. At 70 mph, that wind is providing about a 20-lbs-per-square-foot push on those loads, which can dislodge items and push them right off the vehicle.
Cover it up
For loose, lighter items such as couch cushions, appliances and patio chairs, drivers should use a sturdy plastic or canvas tarp or netting to keep items in place.
Keep materials level with the truck bed or trailer unless tied down, netted or covered with a tarp.
Double check your load to make sure it is secure at the back and on the sides and top. Remember that loads can move and settle during a journey, allowing restraints to loosen. If possible, recheck restraints shortly after beginning your trip.
Properly maintain vehicle tires
The summer heat wreaks havoc on rubber, causing it to dry out and crack. To help avoid a tire blowout, drivers should examine the tread. AAA Arizona recommends checking tire tread by placing a quarter upside down in the tread grooves on several spots of the tire. If the top of Washington's head is exposed at any point, it's time to replace that tire.
Littering is not just bad form or a petty nuisance, it's also illegal. According to Arizona law, “A person shall not drive or move a vehicle on a highway unless the vehicle is constructed or loaded in a manner to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking or otherwise escaping from the vehicle.” (A.R.S. 28-1098.A).
That means those caught littering could be hit with a $500 fine.
To report a littering violation, call 1-877-3LITTER (354-8837). You also can file a report online. Contact information is required to prevent prank reports, but those details will be kept confidential.
"Please don't give up on reporting those violators -- we believe we can change behavior with education and by reminding Arizonans of the health, safety, environmental and economic consequences of freeway litter," the Don't Trash Arizona website implores.
If you see debris along the roadway, contact ADOT at 602-712-7355. If the debris is in the roadway and posing an imminent threat to drivers, call 911.