Have you ever been driving on the freeway when something suddenly falls off the vehicle ahead of you? Maybe you had to brake hard or swerve suddenly to avoid a collision.
Unsecured loads are responsible for about 25,000 accidents each year in North America, resulting in approximately 80-90 fatalities (Source: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety).
Road Debris Kills
The numbers are more than just statistics for Maricopa County residents Paul and Toby Reif. In June 2006, they lost their 29-year-old son Matthew in a tragic accident involving road debris, when a piece of metal catapulted through Matthew’s window, piercing a major artery to his heart. Now the Reifs draw strength from warning others about the dangers of road debris.
“I realize that most people don’t do it intentionally, but they need to be aware that unsecured loads can have serious consequences,” says Paul Reif. It may be the first time they haul something, or it may be something they do routinely, but being lax about loads can have serious consequences. I want people to know that their actions impact others. Road debris killed our son.”
It’s the Law
According to Arizona law, “A person shall not drive or move a vehicle on a highway unless the vehicle is constructed or loaded in a manner to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking or otherwise escaping from the vehicle.” (A.R.S. 28-1098.A).
According to the Arizona Department of Public Safety, violators could be charged with a class two misdemeanor and the fines, plus court costs, can range from $460 to well over $1,000, depending on injuries.
The law applies even if you are traveling a short distance.
Tips for Securing Your Load
Tie It Down. Large or heavy items should be firmly secured with solid straps, rope, bungee cords, or netting. Tie large items directly to your vehicle. Small string is not adequate – tie down materials must be able to withstand the wind loads of 70 mph on the freeway. A lot of people are not aware that at 70 mph, that wind is providing about a 20-pound-per-square-foot push on those loads, which can dislodge those loads and push them right off your vehicle. Don’t use restraints if they are frayed, cut or damaged in any way.
Cover It Up. For loose, lighter items such as tree clippings, a sturdy plastic or canvas tarp or netting can be used to keep items in place. Tie the tarp securely, or it might become road debris as well.
Lighter Goes Lower. Put lighter weight things at the bottom of the load and make sure they are secure. Evenly distribute the load to prevent it from sliding.
Don’t Overload. Keep material level with truck bed or trailer unless tied down, netted or tarped. Materials below the truck bed should also be secured if there’s any chance of them blowing out or falling from the vehicle.
Double-Check. Double check your load to make sure it is secure at the back and on the sides and top. Remember that loads can move and settle during a journey, allowing restraints to loosen. If possible, recheck restraints shortly after beginning your trip.
Make Sure It’s Roadworthy.Ensure both the vehicle and trailer are in good mechanical condition and roadworthy. Make sure your vehicle is rated to tow the load. Drive to the conditions: your load will make your vehicle less maneuverable and it will take longer to stop.
Ask Yourself: Is there any chance of debris falling or blowing out of my vehicle? Would I feel safe if I were driving behind MY vehicle? What would happen to MY load if I had to brake suddenly or if I hit a bump?
This piece of metal debris was kicked up from a Phoenix-area overpass onto the freeway below, punching clear into the passenger side seat. Fortunately, the driver was alone in the vehicle at the time.