AAA warns of accident risk from debris flying off vehicles

Last Updated Aug 11, 2016 7:45 AM EDT

Driver beware: Dangerous debris in the road or from an unsecured load falling off other vehicles has been blamed for more than 200,000 crashes on U.S. roads between 2011 and 2014.

A study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths from those incidents during that time, reports CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave.

A video from June shows an SUV hauling a boat. A pad comes loose and a motorcycle can't get out of the way in time.

"The really troublesome thing about all this is a majority of these crashes are preventable, if drivers would just take the necessary precautions to secure their load or maintain their vehicle properly," Tamra Johnson of AAA said.

It's a tragedy Heidi Coffee and her five children have been living with for 10 years.

"I just couldn't believe it. I thought there had to be some mistake," Coffee said.

Coffee was seven months pregnant when her husband, Gavin, was killed. A metal shelving was not properly secured and flew out of the back of a pickup. Gavin tried to avoid it and was hit by another car on a Seattle-area freeway.

"I miss being a wife because that was my favorite thing, was to be his wife and best friend, and that's what I miss the most," an emotional Coffee said.

Thirty-seven percent of those killed in the AAA-study died like Gavin, crashing while swerving to avoid debris. It's most likely to happen on a freeway in the middle of the day. Drivers responsible for creating road debris can face fines in all 50 states.

Because of a 2004 lost load accident that blinded Maria Federici, Washington became one of just 16 states to pass a law that can send a responsible driver to jail.

"I don't know how I could live with myself if I ever caused someone's injury or death because of something that could have so easily been prevented," Coffee said.

Maintaining your vehicle so pieces of it don't come off on the road, and properly securing objects you're hauling, are keys to preventing these types of accidents. One suggestion: If you wouldn't want your family driving behind what you're hauling, it's a good sign it's probably not safe.