Commuters on South Florida roadways have experienced it and possibly even had to dodge it at times during their travels. The “it” is road debris, and according to Florida Department of Transportation officials, it is one of their No. 1 priorities.
Whether pushed off to the side or blocking the roadway, debris can seem to come out of nowhere, creating a dangerous situation for drivers.
In late December, a road sign somehow ended up as debris along I-95 near Pembroke Road.
After several cars crashed apparently trying to avoid the sign, it went airborne. The metal pole pierced the back of a white Corvette. No one was seriously hurt.
“We don’t want anything kicked up from people driving, from leaving the debris there," said Nicole Forest with Florida’s Department of Transportation.
Keeping the roads safe and clear is one of the biggest tasks facing FDOT.
Local 10 rode along with one of the department’s Severe Incident Response Vehicles, or SIRV trucks.
The unit, created in 2005, is the only one in the country. It acts as a liaison with other first responder agencies to manage incidents on the road and help clear lanes as quickly and safely as possible.
“By far, I think the thing we encounter the most are just vehicle crashes that foul up the highway with crash debris," according to Ron Ferrante who drives a SIRV truck for DOT’s District 4 in Broward County.
“We do have people that lose loads, lose ladder and lumber and all sorts of construction materials”, Ferrante said.
Local 10 learned in 2019 that Broward County Florida Highway Patrol issued 145 citations to drivers for unsecured loads.
In Miami-Dade, FHP issued 113 citations over the same time period. The agency did not have data on how many times these may have led to crashes or injuries.
“Things happen very quickly out there and so the best thing a motorist can do is pay attention to their surroundings," Forest said.
But sometimes things happen too fast. In 2016, a driver named Holden Amory was traveling southbound on I-95 in Boca Raton when a piece of metal debris struck his windshield and badly cut his face.
“Hit me an inch higher, I would have lost my vision," Amory said at the time.
His attorneys believed the debris came from a truck’s brakes. Almost four years later, no one has claimed responsibility.
When it comes to these cases, proving responsibility can be hard, according to attorney David Henry, a partner at the firm of Kelly Kronenberg.
“Somebody should be responsible," Henry said.
He said the challenge stems from the fact that the burden of proof is on the victim to show negligence as well as who is responsible.
“One of the biggest things I would recommend then is for people to make sure they have some uninsured motorist coverage," Henry said.
FDOT crews are constantly patrolling and watching the roads from their 24-hour transportation management center, according to Forest.
“When a hazard is reported to us our first response is to send our road ranger service patrol unit to check it out," she said.
But too often, by the time debris is detected, whoever left it is long gone.
“It’s a huge challenge and more importantly it’s a huge challenge for public safety," Forest said.
Forest said there is one thing drivers can do to help.
“Always staying vigilant and not be distracted and just focus," she said.
The department also maintains a regular schedule of cleaning roadside debris two weeks out of every month, but they rely on the public to call in and report any hazards they see during their commute.
One thing FDOT crews report seeing too much of on the roads is tire debris.
They said all drivers should take the time to make sure they are checking tire pressure as well as tread depth. It’s a small step they say could help keep you or the person driving behind you safe.