Transportation Matters in Iowa | Blog

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Where did that come from?


Loaded pickupRandom furniture, construction debris, lots of single shoes and tons of other garbage litter the roadsides of Iowa. How does all that junk get from someone’s house, a factory, or a job site to the ditch?

Practically every day employees of the Iowa Department of Transportation cringe at what they see on the roadway. Pick-up truck beds loaded to the hilt tied down with a single rope (or no tie down at all), passenger vehicles with half-open trunks full of stuff peeking out through precariously placed bungee cords, flatbed trailers with beams bobbing and weaving with each dip of the road. These items are all just one bump away from becoming dangerous obstacles in your daily commute.

So how large of a problem is debris on Iowa roads? In March in Des Moines, Council Bluffs, and the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City areas alone, our Traffic Management Center operators made requests for Highway Helper to pick up debris 852 times. This doesn’t include the thousands of items picked up each year by staff in our 102 maintenance garages on roads all over Iowa. 


Typically in situations like this our TMC dispatches Highway Helper to remove the debris, unfortunately, in this case, they weren’t able to remove before someone hit it.

Iowa DOT maintenance managers from around the state agree, their workloads would be cut significantly and the roads made much safer if people would simply secure their stuff. Steve Mefford, our maintenance manager in Southwest Iowa, said, “People seem to buy things at the lumber yard without regard to the size of the vehicle they need to carry it home. This leads to large loads being stuffed into, or on top of, vehicles much too small. Almost daily we’re cleaning up steel, lumber, and boxes of nails or screws. And of course, there are always couches, chairs, and mattresses, too.”

Each time there is debris in the road, the risk for crashes increases. Ned Lewis, Highway Helper coordinator for Iowa, said, “You just never know what you’re going to find. Everything from cash to furniture to ladders to wedding dresses.”


Tom Kimbrow, the highway helper supervisor in Iowa said, “One of the biggest issues we run into is people thinking they are doing the right thing by tying down loads with twine. Whether you’ve been to the local lumber yard or furniture store, you need to realize twine likely isn’t going to keep anything very secure.”

Load securement is a major emphasis point for our Motor Vehicle Enforcement as they patrol Iowa highways to keep you safer. MVE Chief David Lorenzen said, “Making sure the loads carried on commercial motor vehicles are securely tied down or covered is one of the first things our officers look for. Load securement is also something we work on with our industry partners on a regular basis.”

The following are tips from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

Tips to safely secure your load

When moving, towing furniture, or transporting items in an open truck bed, it is important to make sure all items are secured.

  1. Tie down loads with sturdy rope, netting, or straps – be sure to inspect tie downs and discontinue use if they show signs of wear, frays, or tears
  2. Tie large objects directly to the vehicle or trailer
  3. Cover the entire load with a sturdy tarp or netting
  4. Don’t overload the vehicle
  5. Always double check your load to make sure it is secure

How to avoid road debris

  1. Drivers should continually scan the road at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead for debris.
  2. Don’t tailgate! By maintaining at least 3 to 4 seconds of following distance, you can see potential objects in the road ahead easier and will have more time to react.
  3. If you see you are about to make contact with debris, safely reduce your speed as much as possible prior to making contact.
  4. When driving at dusk and dawn be especially alert for animals on or near the roadway.
  5. Always be aware of open space around your vehicle.
  6. Drivers should maintain open space to the front and at least one side of their vehicle at all times in case they need to make a sudden movement to avoid debris.

Maybe educational pamphlets given out at lumber yards and other facilities where large loads are anticipated would help?
The DOT could sponsor videos on
YouTube that deal with improper
Loading and Transport.
And maybe better-awareness campaigns on tie down products at commercial sites?

A display at the Iowa State Fair showing right and wrong ways to load a vehicle would be worthwhile. It looks like the vehicle driver that hits the chairs was a bit startled after doing so. Probably had to set the phone down. . .

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Iowa highway in the evening