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Look out for flying rocks. It’s windshield cracking season.

Boulders trucked and flown to Oroville spillway

Large bags of rocks were taken by truck and flown by helicopter to the eroded site on the emergency spillway on Oroville Dam on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017.
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Large bags of rocks were taken by truck and flown by helicopter to the eroded site on the emergency spillway on Oroville Dam on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017.

Linda Peters and her husband were driving on Interstate 5 recently when – splack! – a rock hit their windshield like a bullet, causing an instant crack to run across the glass.

Peters said her family has suffered two such run-ins already this year. That’s because the freeway near their Laguna West home seems like a main route for commercial trucks, some of which don’t have covers on top, she said. It can get so bad that drivers feel like they have to play dodgeball on the freeway.

“We’re so frustrated,” Peters said. “We’re not the only ones this is happening to.”

It’s peak construction season again in the Valley. Gravel trucks are on the roads. And that means it’s cracked windshield season.

California Highway Patrol and Caltrans officials say there are even more construction trucks on the road now than usual. The economy is up, meaning more construction. And the winter’s rains were so heavy that they caused damage, including to roads and highways, that needs fixing.

The Oroville Dam spillway repair work, in particular, has turned the highway 70 and 99 corridor into a giant ant colony of loaded trucks.

CHP officer Jeff Shields is a member of the patrol’s Mobile Road Enforcement team, which is out on the highways looking for commercial trucks that don’t comply with state laws.

“This is a busier time for us,” Shields said. “This time of year, it’s farming, construction and long haul (trucks) coming more freely over the (mountain) passes.”

Trucks carrying gravel, dirt and asphalt loads in open-topped trailers cannot allow those loads to mound higher than the top of the truck, Shields said. The material would blow out, Shields said, “and then we get chipped windows.”

On freeways with multiple lanes, drivers have a basic choice. “You either pass them or stay away,” Caltrans spokesman Gilbert Mohtes-Chan said.

On other, smaller highways, though, drivers might find themselves stuck behind a truck. Backing way off may be the best bet.

The state vehicle code, by the way, requires that trucks carrying gravel or aggregate must have “splash flaps” behind every tire. That’s because those trucks often go onto off-road construction sites and get rocks trapped in tire treads that then can spit free on the open road.

It’s often hard to know, if a rock hits, where it came from. The CHP says, though, if you see rocks or other potentially dangerous materials flying out of a truck, you can call 911 to report it.

But big trucks don’t present the only hazard on the roads in spring, highway patrol officials say. With spring cleaning underway, plenty of private pickup truck owners, landscape companies and small waste haulers are carrying loads on the road.

The CHP and Caltrans offered tips last week for people to ensure those loads don’t go flying off and cause crashes or injuries. The worst thing to do is to just pile materials in the pickup bed without securing them. But drivers often try to tie down household debris or pruning with a single rope. That often is not enough, officials say. The wind or a sudden turn can lift objects up and toss them out.

It’s best to use a tarp with eyelets on the edges, each secured with bungee cords or multiple ropes.

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