Who is responsible for road debris damage?
The responsibility will depend on where the road debris came from and if it can be clearly tied back to another vehicle. Depending on the circumstances, either your comprehensive coverage or the other driver's liability coverage may cover the damage to your vehicle. If you do not carry comprehensive coverage and the debris comes from an unknown source, you will be responsible to pay for any repairs out of pocket.
When is hitting road debris covered under comprehensive coverage?
Comprehensive coverage would apply if the road debris came from an unidentified source that couldn't clearly be tied back to another vehicle. Comprehensive would cover these scenarios because it protects against unexpected damage to your vehicle that isn't caused by a collision.
A common scenario that would fall under comprehensive coverage is running over something on the freeway or a city street, like metal, wood, and rocks. If something hits your car on the freeway or a city street that isn't clearly from another vehicle, like a random rock hitting your windshield or flying debris that's coming from all directions, comprehensive would also cover the damage.
When does liability coverage apply?
If debris from a truck or another vehicle clearly falls off their vehicle and hits your car, their liability coverage may cover the damage if it's found that the owner was negligent. For example, if a truck is carrying a Christmas tree and it's not tied down properly, the owner can be found liable if it falls off the truck and another vehicle runs over it.
If something falls off your car and the debris causes damage to another car, you could be held responsible if negligence can be proven. In that case, your liability coverage would pay for the damage to the other driver's vehicle.
There are instances where negligence is not clear-cut, like when small rocks or gravel fall out of a pickup truck and damage your vehicle. In these cases, the driver of the truck may not be held responsible, especially if the debris hits the road first and then strikes your car. Additionally, if it's determined that you were following the truck too closely, the other driver's insurance may not cover the damage to your vehicle.
How can I prevent car damage from road debris?
When you're transporting something
Secure the load tightly: If you're attaching something to your roof, use ropes or straps that are tight enough to keep the load from sliding. Follow the same approach in the bed of a pickup truck and consider adding a cargo net for extra protection.
Use the proper equipment: From luggage racks to bike racks to various types of trailers, using specialized equipment is a great way to minimize the chances your load will come loose and a driver behind you will run over something on the freeway.
Don't try to recover a lost item yourself: Many experts recommend that you pull over immediately after discovering something has fallen from your vehicle and call the highway patrol so the items can be removed safely.
When you're driving behind a car or truck
Keep your eyes on the road: It goes without saying, the more you focus on your driving, the better the chance you can react and avoid damage to your car from any road debris in front of you.
Don't tailgate: Some work trucks have signs that warn other drivers to stay a certain distance back because of the possibility that rocks, gravel, or some other material might come loose. In addition to work trucks, it's generally a good idea to keep a few car lengths distance between any vehicle that is transporting something.
Report any damage right away: In many cases, the driver in front of you may not realize that something has fallen off their vehicle and onto the road. If you find that you've run over metal on the freeway or encountered other sudden road hazards, take photos of any damage (and the debris that caused it) and report the incident to the police.