Hazardous Debris

ADOT’s Incident Response Unit picking up Phoenix-area litter and dangerous road debris much faster

ADOT’s Incident Response Unit picking up Phoenix-area litter and dangerous road debris much faster

I-17 101 traffic interchange

ADOT’s Incident Response Unit picking up Phoenix-area litter and dangerous road debris much faster

ADOT’s Incident Response Unit picking up Phoenix-area litter and dangerous road debris much faster

November 1, 2021

PHOENIX –  In the past two years since the Arizona Department of Transportation started the Incident Response Unit sponsored by State Farm, pickup of litter and dangerous roadway debris has been far faster and more efficient than before. 

The Incident Response Unit, whose job is to patrol Valley freeways to provide vital services including removing litter and debris blocking the road, is working even more efficiently with its own tracking system for calls and time management . The system has provided a clearer picture for the unit to see where improvements can be made in responding to roadway incidents in the Valley.

“Litter is an ugly problem anywhere and objects in the roadway can cause serious and even fatal incidents,” said David Blue, ADOT’s Incident Response Unit manager. “Our job is to respond as rapidly as possible to get the driving surface clear and make sure conditions are safe for everyone.”  

One improvement that has paid dividends was a shift in schedules to have a rotating member of the unit on patrol duty on the weekend to address the dozens of litter calls coming in. The Incident Response Unit sponsored by State Farm normally operates from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday with on-call services nights and weekends. This change keeps drivers safer by removing blocking litter more quickly and freeing up State Troopers to address other incidents on the freeways.

In fact, one-third of the 1600 calls that have come in since mid-August have been for litter blocking the road. The types of litter the IRU responds to range from ladders and load spills to couches and even air conditioning units.

“Having someone on weekend duty helps us achieve our mission of keeping traffic flowing and reducing the chance for crashes,” Blue added. “We’re always looking to improve our processes to better serve motorists in the Valley.”

In addition to litter removal, the IRU provides traffic control at crash scenes and aids stranded motorists. Having a dedicated mobile team has cut response times for incidents to a matter of minutes. Before the IRU, maintenance crews would have to stop their work, return to a yard to pick up vehicles and equipment and then respond to the crash scene.

Learn more about ADOT’s Incident Response Unit sponsored by State Farm at azdot.gov/IRU

As temperatures rise, look out for 'gators' on the highway

As temperatures rise, look out for 'gators' on the highway


As temperatures rise, look out for 'gators' on the highway

As temperatures rise, look out for 'gators' on the highway

June 18, 2019

By David Rookhuyzen / ADOT Communications

You've probably seen them as you drive, lurking along roadways or basking in the Arizona sun. Maybe you've seen Department of Public Safety troopers having to remove them from the road.

These are "gators," but not the kind you'd see in Florida. Road gators are the tire treads that wind up on roadways following a tire blowout. The amount of tire debris we see on the highway goes up as hotter weather sets in. In fact, these photos are from a recent trip to one of our Valley maintenance yards.


While road gators don't have up to 80 teeth or a bite that can snap with more than 2,000 pounds per square inch, they can be every bit as dangerous to drivers if they end up in the travel lanes. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about 700 people die every year in tire-related crashes.

Fortunately, there is something you can do to help keep gators off the road: Check your tires regularly.


Making sure your tires are not under- or overinflated can reduce the risk of blowouts. Also make sure that a vehicle's tires are properly maintained and rotated. Finally, checking a tire's tread and replacing it when it is too worn decreases the chance of a blowout.

Staying alert and being prepared for possible road hazards is essential. While DPS troopers often take on the potentially dangerous task of tossing road gators out of travel lanes and onto highway shoulders, ADOT crews do spot pickups of debris along busy Phoenix-area freeway shoulders and state highways throughout the year. Our sweeping contractors do regular weekly collection of larger debris items along Valley freeways, but as you can imagine it's impossible to immediately catch everything along the more than 6,300 miles of state highways.

As we said in a recent post, if a driver sees tire debris on the roadway, their first call should be to 911 to have it removed as soon as possible.

Driving Safety Home: Once again, secure your load

Driving Safety Home: Once again, secure your load


Driving Safety Home: Once again, secure your load

Driving Safety Home: Once again, secure your load

June 14, 2019

By Dallas Hammit / ADOT State Engineer

I frequently discuss ways we can all be safer behind the wheel, but today I want to focus on something you should do before you even get in the driver’s seat: Secure your load.

We’ve all seen those vehicles on the highway – the ones that are overloaded and almost overflowing with things. It could be mattresses or heavy equipment or even personal items being moved across town. Whatever it is, if it’s not secured it poses a real danger to everyone on the road.

Across the country, about 51,000 debris-related crashes occur each year, resulting in 10,000 injuries. In Arizona alone, there were more than 800 debris related crashes in 2017, resulting in one fatality.

Items that end up on the road don’t just put motorists at risk. Law enforcement officers and ADOT employees are put in the dangerous position of having to clear the road of the debris.

You can easily contribute to a safer commute for everyone if you secure your load. Tie-downs, netting, bungee cords, ropes, straps and tarps all can keep your belongings in your vehicle and off the road, making travel safer for everyone.

Here are some good tips from Don’t Trash Arizona:

  • Large or heavy items should be firmly secured with solid straps, rope, bungee cords, or netting. Tie large items directly to your vehicle. Tied down materials must be able to withstand wind up to 70 miles per hour on the highway. At that speed, the wind is providing about a 20-pound-per-square-foot push, which can dislodge those loads and push them off your vehicle. Do not use restraints if they are frayed, cut, or damaged.
  • For loose, lighter items such as tree clippings, a sturdy plastic or canvas tarp or netting can be used to keep items in place. Tie the tarp securely or it might become road debris as well.
  • Put lighter weight things at the bottom of the load and make sure they are secure. Evenly distribute the load to prevent it from sliding.
  • Keep materials level with truck bed or trailer unless tied down, netted or under a tarp.
  • Double-check your load to make sure it is secure at the back and on the sides and top. Remember that loads can move and settle during a journey, allowing restraints to loosen. If possible, recheck restraints shortly after beginning your trip.
  • Ensure both the vehicle and trailer are in good mechanical condition and roadworthy. Check that your vehicle is rated to tow the load. Remember that your load will make your vehicle less maneuverable and it will take longer to stop.
  • Ask yourself: Is there any chance of debris falling or blowing out of my vehicle? Would I feel safe if I were driving behind my vehicle? What would happen to my load if I had to brake suddenly or if I hit a bump?

Another thing to remember is that if you see road debris, treat it as the danger it is call 911.

Posting a photo to social media can’t guarantee a timely response, even if you tag ADOT and DPS. Calling 911 helps to ensure the dangerous items will quickly and safely be removed.

EDITOR'S NOTE: More safety messages from Dallas Hammit, ADOT's state engineer and deputy director for transportation, are available at Driving Safety Home on azdot.gov.

Secure your load: A PT Cruiser's roof, a sofa and twine don't mix

Secure your load: A PT Cruiser's roof, a sofa and twine don't mix


Secure your load: A PT Cruiser's roof, a sofa and twine don't mix

Secure your load: A PT Cruiser's roof, a sofa and twine don't mix

June 7, 2019

By Mary Currie / ADOT Adopt a Highway

One day last week while stopped at traffic signal, I watched a purple PT Cruiser drive from the opposite direction, take the left-turn signal and drive through the intersection past my car. Nothing unusual in that – except for the brown leather sofa attached to the roof by two pieces of twine.

“Awkward” and “OMG” were two thoughts that popped into my head. Too often, ADOT's Twitter account alerts the public to sofas on freeways, including the one shown above, and no doubt many of those dangerous incidents begin with the poor planning this driver demonstrated.

As the car lumbered around the corner, I watched the sofa shift slightly. Realizing that I was holding my breath, I exhaled as I watched the vehicle drive onward with the load still intact. Barely.

If this was you, I want you to know that the commuters on either side of me were left breathless too. Automobile roofs are not meant to secure furniture, and you were gambling your safety and the safety of others in expecting that sofa to make it to your destination.

A sofa launching into an intersection or falling where a trailing vehicle might hit it can lead to serious injuries – or worse – for other drivers and pedestrians.

Spring and summer are busy moving times for college students and families. The stuff people tote around during these moves is important. So beg or borrow a truck, or dig lost change out of that sofa and rent a truck. Then securely tie down your items.

Yesterday was Arizona Secure Your Load Day, when ADOT reminds you that debris on freeways causes 51,000 accidents in the U.S. every year, injuring nearly 10,000.

Please be a responsible mover. We want you to make it to your destination safely so you can enjoy the important stuff in life, including that large leather sofa I last saw precariously perched atop a PT Cruiser heading into the distance.


EDITOR'S NOTE: The author oversees ADOT Adopt a Highway programs.



See road debris? Don’t @ us, call 911

See road debris? Don’t @ us, call 911


See road debris? Don’t @ us, call 911

See road debris? Don’t @ us, call 911

June 6, 2019

By Doug Pacey / ADOT Communications

ADOT’s social media accounts engage with the public hundreds of times every day.

Much of it comes via our Twitter account @Arizona DOT, which has nearly a quarter-million followers. From questions and comments about upcoming projects, current road restrictions, Travel ID and more, we respond to all of it.

But there’s one topic we’d prefer not to engage anymore: debris in travel lanes.

Too often, motorists will tweet us about a ladder in the center lanes of State Route 51, a mattress blocking the right lane of I-10 near Casa Grande or any variety of debris obstructing travel lanes on highways statewide.

We want motorists to stop sending us that information via social media and treat it like the emergency it is and call 911. Doing this guarantees the fastest response to clear hazardous road debris from travel lanes, making travel safer for all motorists. (Yes, even with the hands-free law passed in Arizona this year, it’s OK to use your phone to call 911.)

This is important because, nationally, there are about 51,000 debris-related crashes every year that result in about 10,000 injured motorists. Arizona isn’t immune. Last year, Department of Public Safety troopers responded to more than 1,000 collisions where debris was a factor.

At an event marking Arizona Secure Your Load Day on Thursday, June 6, at ADOT’s Traffic Operations Center, ADOT Director John Halikowski was joined by transportation safety partners, including the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, Arizona Department of Public Safety and the Maricopa Association of Governments. Halikowski encouraged motorists to ensure loads are secured and covered, and for people to call 911 and report hazardous road debris in travel lanes.

Also at the event were Paul and Toby Reif, whose 29-year-old son Matthew Reif was killed on June 6, 2006, when a piece of scrap metal pierced the windshield of the car he was driving on Hunt Highway in Pinal County and killed him.

Paul Reif urged people to call 911 and report hazardous debris, no matter the size.

“Calling 911,” he said, “could save someone else’s son.”