Flying gravel a problem on Utah highways

SALT LAKE CITY - It's a common sound drivers hear on the freeway - the crack of a rock hitting the windshield.

For Safelight AutoGlass customers like Justine Ho, the sound is memorable. "I remember driving behind a giant truck and then 'ping' having it chipped," she told FOX 13. "It seems unavoidable."

There are two areas Lt. Greg Willmore with the Utah Highway Patrol said are problems. "The south end by Draper and then the north end in the Beck Street area," he said.

Willmore said UHP does keep an eye on trucks coming and going from the gravel pits in these areas to see if they are adhering to UDOT regulations. In summary, trucks need to have a tarp securing the load unless the load is below the top of the trailer, and six inches below the edges. Certain materials, like hot asphalt, are not required to be under a tarp.

Geneva Rock is one of many companies that has trucks hauling loads in and out of gravel pits each day. They sent FOX 13 this statement about their standard operating procedures:

"Geneva Rock has implemented policies and procedures for the safety of its employees and the public, and to ensure the company is in compliance with state and local laws. Trucks carrying gravel or aggregate materials are required to be covered if the highest point of the load is above the top of the cargo compartment of the vehicle. Some materials, such as hot mix asphalt, are not required to be covered. Before leaving the property, trucks operated by Geneva Rock are inspected by the driver to ensure their load meets this requirement and that any loose material is swept off. We encourage third-party operators to do the same.”

When UHP troopers see a truck in violation, they pull the driver over and write a citation. The first costs $500, and the second is $1,000. These violations also go on the company's safety rating. Any driver whose load causes an accident could be charges with a misdemeanor or more, depending on the nature of that accident.

A manager of Safelite AutoGlass said big trucks from asphalt companies are not always to blame. Sometimes rocks fall off construction vehicles. Other times, debris flies off a trailer someone in a normal SUV is hauling. All sorts of things can be found on the side of the highway.

"I think Utah's unique, and just depending on the environment we tend to be dryer here. I think that probably causes some of that. We also have harsh winters," said Saul Rainey, CTU Store Manager for Safelite AutoGlass.

Safelite has 14 locations in Utah, and does hundreds of repairs each month. That number fluctuates depending on the time of the year, and changes with the opening of new stores in more convenient locations. Their competitor, TechnaGlass, boasts thousands of repairs.

"We have 26 stores in Utah and between those 26 stores we actually do repair about seven thousand rock chip repairs a month," said TechnaGlass CEO Troy Mason.

The price for a fix varies depending on where you go and how much work your windshield needs. Sometimes your insurance will cover the whole cost. No matter the cost, it's important to fill a chip fast.

"You get it fixed as quickly as you can," said customer Martha Stockham. If you don't, "it may splay and then you really do need a whole glass put in."

Rainey and Mason agree: fixing a chip or crack is much better than having to replace the whole windshield. The said the windshield is an important part of the structure of your vehicle. If it isn't safe, neither are you.

"Whenever it has a crack, it's significantly weakened so it`s real critical to make sure you get it replaced or repaired as quickly as possible," Rainey said.

Ho weighed in on this, too, and said she noticed all her Utah friends are "constantly getting their windshields cracked."

There are tips on how to avoid this from happening.

"A good thing to do is to back off, you know. Get out of the way. Change lanes if you can or pass the vehicle if you can safely," Willmore said.

UHP also wants you to give them a call to report an incident. A license plate and description of the vehicle the rock or debris flew off helps.

If your vehicle gets damaged, they encourage you to file a complaint online. UHP said they get an average of 51 complaints in Salt Lake County and 34 in Utah County each month, but said they know more people are out there who are not filing complaints. They said those are valuable in that it helps identify problem spots to patrol and alerts UDOT to dispatch sweepers to clean up debris.

Visit https://highwaypatrol.utah.gov/contact/ and then follow the instructions on how to best file a complaint.