Q Driving up Highway 101 toward San Francisco recently, I had to swerve around a ladder in the road about a mile north of SFO. I immediately flashed back to an incident I had a few weeks earlier on Interstate 280 just before the Winchester Boulevard exit in which I was barely able to brake in front of a tumbling ladder that had fallen off a commercial van ahead of me.

My passenger in the second incident said his wife had recently driven over a runaway ladder while on the freeway, leading me to believe that it's more common of an occurrence than I would've guessed. Are fallen ladders a regular phenomenon on our roads?

Yoshi Kato

A Yes, along with mattresses, tarps, large boxes and other debris that can cause accidents or force drivers to take evasive action.

A report a decade ago found that pickups and other vehicles piled high with improperly secured loads force Caltrans to spend as much as $55 million a year to clean enough highway debris to fill nearly 8,750 garbage trucks. In one two-year period, 155 people lost their lives hitting objects on highways.

What can we do? Don't follow a pickup stacked with potential debris. Look far down the road to spot vehicles slowing down or swerving to avoid accidents rather than looking directly in front of your vehicle like most people do. Give yourself an out.


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And call 911 if you see a ladder on the road.

Q On my Highway 17, 85 and 280 commute, I have noticed that several large freeway information signs (the older ones with wood support legs) are down on the ground, mangled on these major highways. Is someone deliberately running their vehicle into the signs?

Helen Josephine

Scotts Valley

A I was at a friend's badminton party recently and a person there made the same comment. Caltrans says there indeed seems to be a rash of smashed signs, which can take months to replace. Most if not all have been hit by errant drivers.

Q It would be interesting to know the number of times the metering light at the south onramp to Interstate 880 at 29th Avenue and 7th Street in Oakland has been taken down and put back up in the past 11 years. The total has to be in the teens or twenties. It's an awful ramp, with very little wiggle room. What is going on here?

Christina Pence

Alameda

A Alan-the-Caltrans-Metering-Man is blunt: "The ramp meter has been knocked down (not taken down) many times by irresponsible drivers and each time it has been replaced by Caltrans."

The cost of replacing a signal is $3,000 and can be charged to the driver.

Q Can you ask smokers to explain why they think it is OK to throw lit cigarettes out their car windows? We had a fire along Almaden Expressway near Curtner the other day. Luckily it was small and put it out quickly. It came close to taking out homes. I'd love for someone to explain why they think this behavior is OK.

Peggy Aaron

San Jose

A Butt flingers, I'm listening.

Look for Gary Richards at Facebook.com/mr.roadshow, follow him at Twitter.com/mrroadshow or contact him at mrroadshow@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5335.