Many drivers have had the unnerving experience of driving behind a truck that unexpectedly drops debris. It could be a gravel truck that sheds a pebble just large enough to crack your windshield, or a semi-trailer that suddenly sheds its cargo, creating a roadway obstacle course.
Trucks carrying unsecured loads can cause minor dings and dents, along with serious injuries. But it’s not just big rigs that are causing unsecured-load injuries. Many overloaded pick-up trucks, along with cars carrying improperly secured items, are responsible for these types of crashes.
Keeping Drivers In-Check
Every state has a statute regarding unsecured loads. In Texas, it’s illegal to carry loose materials – dirt, gravel, and trash, for example – without enclosing it in some way. Fines for violation of this law could be between $500 and $5,000.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires commercial drivers to follow extensive rules for securing loads, with specific measures required, depending on the type of cargo transported. With the number of incidents involving trucks dropping debris, one has to wonder: Are drivers not reading those rules, or do they just ignore them?
In April 2015, police closed lanes of Interstate 10 in Houston after a semitrailer dropped what appeared to be a large box (it was a portable darkroom, long enough to block an entire lane). Three months later, about 100 miles northeast of Houston, a semi dropped a large spool of wire weighing more than 10 tons. The spool smashed into the passenger side of a woman’s car, and she was treated for minor injuries.
The Scope of the Problem
So, just how widespread is the problem of unsecured-load crashes? Surprisingly, no one seems to know. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tracks crashes caused by roadway debris, but that category includes everything from truck cargo to fallen tree branches. What the NHTSA does know is that in 2010, 440 fatal crashes were caused by roadway debris.
According to the NHTSA, inconsistent reporting from state to state makes it hard to quantify unsecured-load crashes. Some state police accident reports have a check box for “unsecured loads,” while other states may not include that information in reports. What further complicates reporting is that not all roadway debris is a result of an unsecured load. For example, a rusted bumper on the highway could have fallen off a truck hauling trash or broken loose from a poorly maintained car.
Even though there are state laws that require non-commercial drivers to secure loads, many people don’t seem to understand the importance of those laws. Think about all the amateur movers you’ve seen – people who cram all of their belongings into the back of a pick-up truck, with items balanced precariously on one another.
Staying safe on the road is a mix of common sense and luck. Obviously, you want to avoid driving behind overloaded vehicles. But there’s no way to know whether a semi half a mile ahead of you is about to unleash its load of bowling balls.
The best defense against unpredictable events on the road is to pay attention and maintain a safe distance from vehicles in front of you.