CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- We’ve all had this experience: you’re driving along, minding your own business-- maybe your mind is drifting a little-- then, out of nowhere, there’s a mattress in your lane or a piece of lumber is flying toward your windshield.

How often do these “road hazards” cause a crash?

You have even more reason to increase your following distance on the highway. Road debris being launched like missiles at high speeds striking vehicles with deadly force.

Unsecured loads are breaking free on the highway causing unsuspecting drivers to swerve to avoid danger.

"It was a real big bam-- a thud," says Phil Trexler. He says it happened “in the blink of an eye. It was like out of nowhere. You don't expect a 2x4 to be slammed into your windshield."

The lumber smashed the windshield but didn't break through. Holden Emery wasn't so lucky. He was almost killed, "when a torpedo essentially went through my windshield."

The flying object was a 30-pound piece of sheet metal that hit him square in the face.

In a recent four-year span, a AAA study found dangerous debris was a factor in more than 200,000 crashes, injuring 39,000 people and killing 500.

In Mecklenburg County, road debris contributed to 184 crashes, injuring 40 people last year. Most commonly, a “tire” is the culprit, a factor in 23 of those wrecks.

And you won’t believe some of the other things that drivers encounter on the roads. A conveyor belt on I-85, a porta-john on I-485 and a drive shaft on Eastway Drive.

NCDOT says they get about 60 calls a month, roughly two a day, just in the Charlotte-Metro region, saying there is debris in the travel lanes. That's just 485, 77 and I- 85 through Mecklenburg and Cabarrus Counties.

To harvest all those hazards, NCDOT uses the "gator getter," which can scoop up debris at 55 miles an hour.

Where does it all come from? The traffic safety study found, about two-thirds of debris-related crashes were the result of cargo, not being properly tied down.

In 16 states, drivers of unsecured loads face potential jail time, but not here in the Carolinas.