Peter Pozorski walked away from a freak accident with barely a scratch, but his 2006 silver Dodge Charger was much the worse for wear after a trailer hitch flew off another vehicle and crashed through his windshield a few weeks ago as he drove on Hwy. 12 near Montrose, Minn.

The hitch fell off a pickup truck two vehicles in front of Pozorski. It hit the pavement near Clementa Avenue, then bounced over another vehicle and came straight at Pozorski at 55 miles per hour. He slammed on his brakes to dodge the bulky projectile, all while the praying he would not be rear-ended. It was enough to spare him injury or worse as the hitch hit with dynamite force, shattering the windshield and coming to rest on the driver’s side dashboard.

“He was very lucky,” said Sgt. Tiffani Schweigart of the State Patrol, which posted photos of the harrowing Sept. 21 incident on Facebook. “Even a few miles-per-hour difference puts him in a different position. He was being attentive, and he did something to avoid it.”

The frightening, but all-too-common incident serves as a strong warning to drivers to keep their eyes on the road and be alert to changing conditions. Road debris and flying objects are greater dangers than most realize.

Highway junk kills

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, vehicle parts, cargo and other material jettisoned from vehicles is estimated to cause more than 25,000 crashes per year and lead to up to 100 fatalities.

“Although vehicle-related road-debris crashes are generally less severe than other crashes, individual incidents can be catastrophic,” said Peter Kissinger, head of the AAA safety foundation.

That was the case last week when a mattress fell off a van and may have caused a deadly crash in which a tanker truck overturned and burst into flames in New Jersey.

Ted Krinke, a MnDOT dispatch supervisor, said his agency gets up to 20 calls a day from metro area motorists who report encountering everything from construction cones to wood pallets to briefcases littering the roads.

“There is a lot of junk out there,” he said, noting that MnDOT has trucks to pick up jettisoned items. “We have people running over mattresses, dragging them and then starting their cars on fire. We have accidents because people are swerving around debris.”

After a worker was killed while trying to retrieve debris, the agency outfitted pickups with front-end plows to push large items out of traffic lanes.

Schweigart said the State Patrol has had cases where motorists have been killed by spare tires that have come loose and toppers on trucks that have blown off vehicles. But even small objects such as pieces of metal and loose car parts can be a highway menace, another reason to allow a good following distance and to continually scan the roadway for potential hazards.