Watch Out for That Load!
Some dangers on the road aren’t the huge semi on your bumper or the speeding driver weaving around you during a rainstorm. Some dangers can occur when you’re simply driving home, minding your own business. That’s what happened to Maria Federici. She was heading home on I-405 in Washington State when a piece of particleboard flew out of the rented U-Haul in front of her, smashing through her windshield. Federici almost died; she had nearly every bone broken in her face and was left blind.
Matthew Reif’s family was not so fortunate. He died when a shard of metal flew off the truck in front of him, crashing through his windshield and impaling his heart.
Wait, Aren’t There Laws?
While there are laws in every state about unsecured loads, the fines are often minor, and exemptions abound. In Indiana, commercial vehicle exemptions exist for transporting poultry and for spreading sand or de-icing roads. Fines for breaking the law, however, top out at only $500, with no provision for jail.
But it’s not the commercial vehicles that we’re concerned with here—it’s the amateur helping his buddy pick up a piece of furniture they bought, or taking a bunch of trash to the dump. In Federici’s case, it was someone moving to a new location who had failed to secure the items in the trailer that his vehicle was pulling.
Federici’s mother did manage, after years of effort, to get a provision included in a federal bill. In 2015, President Obama signed a five-year National Transportation bill that included a paragraph specifying that funds were available to states for educating drivers about the dangers of not securing their loads.
First, let’s consider a situation where you help a friend move some furniture with your truck. On the way from one place to the other, the recliner flies out of the truck, striking the vehicle behind you and causing an accident. Who’s at fault?
Second, imagine you are picking up the new clothes dryer you bought from a local store. The store’s employees secure it—you think—in the back of your truck or on your trailer. But on the way home, it falls onto the road, only to be struck by another vehicle. Who’s at fault?
Both times, you are the one who is liable, because it is your truck or your trailer. It is always your responsibility to make sure any load you haul is properly secured, regardless of who else might have tied it down or who might own the item.
Something that weighs as little as 20 pounds coming off a vehicle traveling at 55 mph will strike with a force of 1,000 pounds. Even something like a 2-foot crescent wrench, which weighs considerably less than 20 pounds, can create a frightening situation. On I-79 in Pittsburgh during January, 2017, just such a wrench flew off a tanker truck going 65 mph, smashing into the windshield of another vehicle. Fortunately, there were no injuries.
But all too often, injuries and deaths occur. Unsecured loads can create road debris, or items that suddenly block the way for drivers traveling behind the hauler. The AAA Foundation released study results in 2016 containing the following sobering information about road debris:
- More than 200,000 crashes in the U.S. involved road debris between 2011 and 2014. Over 500 deaths and 39,000 injuries happened as a result.
- Almost 37 percent of road debris crash deaths were caused by the driver’s swerving to avoid hitting something.
- Over one-third of road debris crashes happened during normal working hours, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Road debris crashes are much likelier to happen on interstates.
What Can I Do?
Do you ever haul things for yourself or for others? Know the rules of securing loads:
- Lighter-weight items go at the bottom of the load, to prevent them from flying off.
- Evenly distribute the load to keep it from moving around.
- Always tie down the load with sturdy straps, rope, or bungee cords. Make sure the tie-downs are not frayed or damaged.
- Large objects should be tied directly to the trailer or the truck itself.
- Wrap the entire load with a tarp or netting. This step is critical if you are hauling loose items such as tree branches or many different items that cannot be tied down individually.
- Double-check to ensure that the load is secure. Traveling at 70 mph means that the wind is pushing on your load with a force of 20 pounds per square foot.
- Don’t overload your vehicle. Know how much you can safely tow or carry.
We believe justice matters.
While monetary compensation can never undo the damage done as the result of a vehicular accident, a financial recovery can ease the burdens caused by overwhelming medical bills, loss of income, and disability. By choosing to talk with Indianapolis vehicle accident lawyer Mike Stephenson, you will benefit from over 30 years of experience, significant investigative and financial resources, and high standards of client care. The initial consultation is always free. Contact Mike today at McNeely Stephenson by calling 1-317-825-5200, or use our online contact form.