PHOENIX – Toilets. Mattresses. Swimming pool slides.
Arizona safety officials say they’ve seen just about everything on the state’s roadways. And all that debris is dangerous: The region saw more than 800 debris-related crashes last year, Maricopa County Supervisor Jack Sellers said.
Gov. Katie Hobbs declared June 6 Arizona’s “Secure Your Load Day,” and Sellers gathered with other state and regional officials Tuesday to highlight its importance.
Greg Byres, state engineer for the Arizona Department of Transportation, reminded drivers to secure their load and call 911 if they see a hazard in the road.
“Our incident response units respond to an average of 46 calls per week for debris blocking the highway,” Byres said. “And they’ve seen it all: washers, refrigerators, large couches, ladders, full-size pickup beds and even some Christmas trees.
“These kinds of items are not only a huge risk to drivers, but also to law enforcement officers and ADOT crews who are put in the dangerous situation of having to clear the road.”
Retired Mesa Police Officer Sean Stoddard also spoke at the conference, recounting his own near-death experience from road debris.
In 2020, another vehicle rammed the officer’s car from behind when Stoddard stopped to clear a ladder in the road. Stoddard, who went into a coma after the accident, was hospitalized for eight months.
Stoddard’s vehicle was on display at the conference – its entire back half crushed.
“I’ve got five kids and all of a sudden, they went without a dad one day. My wife, she went without a husband. I’m grateful to be alive, but these challenges can be avoided. Awful tragedies can be avoided,” Stoddard said.
Officials said road debris could get worse in the future. Sellers pointed to a debris and litter clean-up tax – Proposition 400 – that will expire soon. The half-cent sales tax is set to expire in 2025 unless voters approve its extension.
“We truly need to get the extension of Prop. 400, or we’re going to have major problems,” Sellers said.
Motorists can’t operate vehicles on highways unless their loads are “securely fastened in a manner to prevent the covering or load from becoming loose, detached or in any manner a hazard to other users of the highway,” according to Arizona law.
A violation of this law that results in harm to someone carries a civil penalty of no more than $250; subsequent violations are $350.
If, however, an unsecured load leads to someone’s death, the motorist can face a maximum $1,000 fine.
“The biggest issue is just trying to educate people about how serious a problem this is,” Sellers said. “What really can help a lot – just by taking a few extra minutes to make sure that nothing is going to come off your vehicle.”