Furniture, lumber, luggage, mattresses, tire treads, coolers, and appliances are just some of the items littering our nation’s roadways. But, road debris is more than unsightly…it’s dangerous. According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, road debris played a key role in more than 200,000 crashes on U.S. roadways between 2011 and 2014, resulting in about 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths.

There are precautions, however, that drivers can take to help avoid road debris accidents:

• Scan the road as far ahead as possible to help spot debris.

• Watch the actions of drivers ahead of you. Brake lights and sudden movements might indicate a hazard in the road. Be particularly mindful on highways, as crashes involving road debris are about four times more likely to occur on a major highway, inherently making the crashes more dangerous due to the higher speeds.

• Maintain at least six seconds following distance, adding more space at night and in adverse conditions. Doing so provides maximum visibility to what is ahead of you, and gives you adequate time to slow or take evasive action when road debris is present.

• Know where other vehicles are around you, and try to maintain an open space to one side of your vehicle should the need arise for you to negotiate around road debris.

• Pay attention to other vehicles. If you find yourself behind another vehicle carrying a loose load or something that appears dangerous, back off, and change lanes or pass the vehicle, when it can be done safely.

• When you spot debris in the road ahead of you, move to another lane, if safe to do so.

• If you suddenly come across road debris, avoid slamming on the brakes. Stopping abruptly can be more problematic and could cause an accident. Instead, try to maneuver around the object as smoothly and carefully as you can.

• Don’t swerve suddenly to avoid road debris. Nearly 37 percent of all deaths in road debris-related crashes occur when a driver swerves to avoid hitting an object. A sharp turn of the steering wheel can result in loss of control of the vehicle, and additionally cause panic behind you, greatly increasing the chances of a multicar crash.

• If you are unable to avoid hitting debris on the roadway, safely reduce your speed as much as possible before making contact, and try to avoid driving over sharp objects with your tires. If you think your vehicle might have been damaged by the debris, pull off the road to a safe and legal location, and examine your vehicle and/or consider having your vehicle checked by a mechanic.

Driving is a task that requires your keenest skills of observation. By staying vigilant, you can help improve your chances of avoiding a road debris accident and the costly expenses and injuries that occur as a result.