— -- Between 2011 and 2014, debris on U.S. roadways played a key role in more than 200,000 police reported crashes and 500 deaths, according to a new study from AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. The non-profit research organization contends that many of these crashes could have been prevented.
"What we're finding is that a lot of these crashes are easily preventable if drivers just take the necessary precautions to maintain their vehicles and also secure their loads," Tamra Johnson, spokesperson for the AAA Foundation, told ABC News.
According to AAA, two-thirds of crashes that involve objects on the roadway are the result of debris falling off a vehicle.
Crashes involving road debris were about four times more likely to occur on a major highway, inherently making the crashes more dangerous due to the higher speeds.
More than a third of all deaths in these debris-related crashes resulted from the driver swerving to avoid the object. The driver oftentimes lost control of the vehicle.
Drivers at fault for the debris in the road can face penalties in all 50 states.
In 16 states, someone responsible may even face jail time.
AAA says there are a few steps one can take to avoid such a dangerous crash. Vehicle owners must ensure all parts are securely attached and maintained. Worn tires can suffer blowouts, leaving large pieces of rubber in the roadway. Hardware can corrode, becoming vulnerable to detachment.
When moving large objects, such as in a truck bed, drivers should tie the objects securely with rope, netting or straps directly to the truck bed. The cargo should be covered with a tarp or netting. Finally, be sure to not overload the vehicle.
AAA adds that double checking the load is always a good practice.
For those driving behind moving cargo, be defensive. Leave plenty of space. In the event of an object quickly approaching your vehicle, safely slow down as much as possible before making contact.
ABC News’ Becky Perlow contributed to this report.