FDOT urges drivers to secure their loads after two workers were hit collecting debris on I-75
The large amount of debris on I-75 has FDOT employees working around-the-clock to clear the roadway while subjecting them to danger from motorists cruising at speeds up to 70 mph.
On Saturday, two maintenance crew workers were attempting to cross I-75 in a Gator utility vehicle for debris removal and were struck by a vehicle. They faced non-incapacitating injuries and expect to make a full recovery.
Lieutenant Greg Bueno, a public affairs officer for the Florida Highway Patrol, said they were very lucky to survive, as the utility vehicle doesn’t have the same protection as a car.
“Last year in the state of Florida, we had over 3,700 people lose their lives on the roadways. And that's tragic,” Bueno said. “So naturally, we want to do everything and anything possible to prevent and mitigate those incidents.”
Bueno said that something as small as a loose bucket can cause extensive damage to motorists on the road.
“That bucket is literally a missile,” he said. “And that could cause someone to take evasive action and lose control of the vehicle. It could bounce up strike the windshield, it causes tragedies and that's what we're trying to prevent.”
The Move Over law is in place to protect law enforcement, emergency, sanitation, utility vehicles, tow trucks or wreckers, and maintenance and construction vehicles while dealing with situations on the roadways, according to the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website.
FDOT has a contractor who employs 17 people whose focus is to patrol the interstate for debris. The contractor is looking to hire 10 more qualified employees because of the increase in demand.
As of now, the increase in debris hazards on the road causes FDOT to pull employees from their other jobs, such as drainage or guardrail maintenance, to assist in the debris removal on the interstate.
Amarilys “Amy” Perez, FDOT’s district one maintenance engineer, said the solution isn’t to hire more people to patrol the roadways, but for drivers to act and secure the loads that their vehicles are carrying.
“In the past two months, we've had 226 tons of litter and debris that was picked up from the roadway from Collier County all the way up to Manatee County on I-75,” Perez said.
Perez said that if they collect as much debris as they have in the past two months for a whole year, it would fill a football field at a knee's length.
“I'm really concerned because we have hard-working folks that are trying to keep your workers safe from these hazards. So, I need you to take care of them and not cause those hazards,” Perez said.
Bueno said that not only are travelers subject to fines from their litter, but they could be charged with a crime if someone becomes injured.
“Our roads are heavily traveled, not only by commercial trucks, carrying sand, gravel, all kinds of materials, but also by passenger vehicles carrying precious cargo, which is our loved ones, our families,” Bueno said.
If there is debris in the road, even if it came from your vehicle, FDOT urges drivers to contact 511 to report the incident. Law enforcement can be contacted at *FHP.
“We want to keep our roadway free of hazards so that we do not have to have maintenance workers out there around the clock, fixing our guard rails, cutting our grass, having to pick up trash, day after day after day because people were driving like this, or people were speeding," Bueno said. "And it’s a danger to all of us.”
This story was produced by Hayley Lemery, a student-journalist in Democracy Watch, a news service provided by Florida Gulf Coast University journalism students. The reporter can be reached at email@example.com