Road debris played a role in two fatal crashes over the past week on Utah highways and state officials gathered in Murray this week said it needs the public’s help to keep the litter off the roads.

The Utah Department of Transportation said it has spent $2.5 million on cleanup efforts in the past year. Workers have also put in 28% more hours picking up debris from roads over the last five years, and the Utah Highway Patrol has responded to an average of 1,800 crashes a year caused by roadway junk.

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During a press conference in Murray on Wednesday, UDOT and the Utah Department of Public Safety warned people ahead of July 4 weekend to tie down everything and make sure they are being extra careful by keeping a safe distance from cars in front of them.

A family from Salem learned from a frightening experience last year just how dangerous that roadway debris is.

“I look down and found this,” said Abe Dietz, holding the head of a shovel. “It came through my windshield.”

He was driving home with his family on I-15 in August when it happened.

“The truck in front of me hit it and it went flying up in the air,” he said. “The worst part was the glass in my eyes. It felt like someone threw sand in them.”

His wife helped him pull off the road safely. Luckily, they were all are OK.

Many accidents caused by road debris end much worse.

“If it isn’t us trying to get it out of traffic, it is us responding to a crash because someone hit it,” said UHP Sgt. Mary Kaye Lucas.

She explained on Tuesday night alone, she took calls for debris on the road just about every 15 minutes. Then she got the call for debris that flew off a truck on the interstate in Kaysville and caused a crash that killed two people.

“If you’ve got a good following distance between you and the car in front of you and the car in front of you has to swerve for debris, you now have that following distance in time to react,” she said.

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UHP has seen a 17% increase in debris-related calls in the last five years.

“I knew it was glass, but I didn’t know how bad it was,” Dietz said as he recalled his encounter with the shovel. “Smacked in the face going 75 mph by a shovel.”

He hopes this dangerous trend reverses.

You can be ticketed if something flies off your vehicle and you could face a hefty fine if it causes a crash, public safety officials warn.

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