FOX 17 Investigates: Dangerous debris litters Tennessee roads

FOX 17 Investigates: Dangerous debris on Tennessee roads. PHOTO: MGN

It seems drivers can hardly drive anywhere on Tennessee interstates without dodging dangerous stuff.

Coolers, car bumpers and more. It takes every bit of your attention behind the wheel.

Dodging Debris on Nashville interstates is a lot like that 80's arcade game Frogger.

“A large piece of metal flung up,” said Driver Marissa Stone.

“Sheets of siding and one of them flew out and flew up and did a woopy-tee-doo," said Driver Brian Mac.

"A lot of white lattice work in the road," Driver Jonathan Wentworth said.

Dash cam footage from a Mount Juliet Police cruiser shows the moment an SUV has nowhere to go when a ladder turns up in the middle of the interstate.

It causes an 18 wheeler to jackknife, some injuries, lots of damage and plenty of lawsuits.

Fox 17 spent the last five weeks driving and visually documenting the coolers, paint buckets, trash cans, siding, tires, chairs, mattresses, pipes, even a glass chandelier and a Christmas tree on the roads.

Fox 17 saw a lot of problems just like a hospice worker who drives up to 100 miles a day. Wentworth says there are a lot of hazards like a couch sitting for more than a week on I-65 in Sumner County.

Wentworth said it all happened to fast the day he hit that latticework in the middle of the interstate.

“There wasn't time to react," Wentworth said. "You hit it, and you keep rolling."

However, Wentworth didn’t roll for long. He thinks the latticework had nails. He got flat tires and said his productivity was nil the rest of the day.

Brentwood Police dashcam video shows officers clearing a ladder and a tarp from I-65.

"Massive accident that can happen just by a tarp going over your windshield," Driver Brian Mac said.

Belmont student Marissa Stone explains how a piece of large metal flew up in the air and came down on her.

“I was driving through,"Stone said. "I didn't have time to stop and so the metal hit my car.”

The state of Tennessee wants drivers to dial *THP to report these things. Stone said she’s never heard of *THP.

Brian Mac said if he had to call in each piece of debris, he’s dial his finger off calling.

“I don't think it's working because look at the garbage," Mac said.

With 100 new people moving to Nashville every day, Fox 17 suggested TDOT start using these message boards to let new drivers know how to alert them to road debris.

TDOT Spokeswoman Kathryn Schulte says the agency is open to the idea.

“I think there's certainly room for improvement on that,” Schulte said.

Marissa Stone even suggested a cute jingle saying to help drivers remember.

“Putting the number up there; ‘If you see debris- call star THP,'" Stone said. "It rhymes even.”

TDOT also said it can start using the message boards more to alert drivers about debris. Attorney Stan Davis says that's just a start.

“There needs to be someone responsible for removing it and not just the public at large,” Davis said.

Davis handles a lot of cases where drivers are hurt dodging debris. A rolling hay bale hit one of his clients.

“Many people I have represented have permanent injuries, but you also see people who are dying in these crashes," Davis said. "It is not difficult to make sure your employees properly secure tools and items before getting on the interstate.”

Fox 17 closely examined TDOT's current clean up schedule after Brian Mac claimed he can’t drive 100 yards without seeing an accumulation of stuff.

Fox 17 found out a maintenance crew will pick up the big items only if a driver reports it.

TDOT Maintenance agreed to suggestions about being more proactive with routine clean up routes.

“That's something we're looking at now," Schulte said. "Are we making consistent routes when we need to when our maintenance goes out?”

Schulte said they'll make more progress now with 10 newly hired HELP truck drivers and 88 new maintenance crews.

Jonathan Wentworth summed it up a lot of driver's feelings on an easy solution.

“I think people just need to be more responsible with their stuff,” Wentworth said.

The truth is the state already spends $15 million a year cleaning up Tennesseans' trash and debris.

Tennessee is launching a statewide public service campaign next month to encourage everyone to take a little more personal responsibility.

The state wouldn't give us a sneak peek, but TDOT help truck drivers think the message is definitely needed.

“With more traffic comes more debris," Wayne Epley said. "One of the main things I see is people not securing their loads properly. We ask everyone to strap and tarp. So, everything will stay out of the road and on the trailer. I fear for the drivers out there who come up on these things and they're not expecting them.”

Fox 17 will bring give details of the new public service awareness campaign when it launches in June.

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