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Unsecured Truck Loads

As drivers, we've all witnessed it: logs bouncing precariously in the flatbed of a truck ahead, trash flying out of the top of a garbage truck like confetti as it speeds by, an oversized living room couch strapped to the roof of a moving Pinto, or the stream of unidentified liquid leaking from a vehicle, painting a liquid streak on the pavement below.

The truth is, these frequent roadway sightings are cause for more than a cathartic eye roll and a cautionary lane change. Unsecured truck loads create dangerous conditions on the roadways we use, and cause property damage, injuries, and death. Unsecured loads include loads that are not properly restrained with cords, ropes, tarps, or nets to avoid allowing a portion of the load to fall off of the vehicle while in transit. Not only can improperly secured loads spill debris directly onto other vehicles, cyclists, and pedestrians, but items may also remain in the roadway. These items can cause direct collisions later on, or force travelers to perform dangerous maneuvers in order to avoid the obstructions, endangering other motorists.

In fact, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that vehicle-related road debris causes approximately 25,000 car accidents each year, many of which are fatal. In recognition of the growing seriousness of this problem, the United States Government Accountability Office ("GAO") submitted a report to congressional committees in November of 2012 outlining the problem, and proposing measures to address it. The GAO's report reveals that in 2010, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA"), which collects data on vehicular collisions and deaths, found that in that year, 51,000 car accidents involved motorists running into a piece of debris from other automobiles or objects left in the roadway. Out of those 51,000 car accidents, 10,000 people suffered personal injuries, and 440 were killed.

Those who travel with unsecure loads are subject to penalties and legal liability. Massachusetts General Laws prohibit motorists from traveling on roads with improperly secured loads, and provide for a fine of up to two hundred dollars per violation. G.L. c. 85, § 36. Moreover, drivers carrying unsecured loads who are involved in an accident are subject to negligence-based legal claims, including personal injury and wrongful death. This is a developing area of law, and some states, including Washington, have enacted laws that criminalize the failure to secure loads properly. Jail time is possible in fifteen states for failing to secure a load.

There are numerous resources available to drivers, providing them with the information they need to properly secure their loads to help ensure roadway safety. For example, the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration ("FMCSA") provides a Driver's Handbook on Cargo Securement for drivers at http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/safety-security/safety-initiatives/cargo/cs-manual.htm.

If you have been involved in an accident involving an unsecured truck load, you may have a claim against the driver of the vehicle, and/or the owner of the cargo. If possible, identify other witnesses who may have seen an item or substance come off of the load. Once you have stopped driving, safely photograph anything that may be relevant to your case, such as an unsecured truck door, broken ropes, or the materials that spilled onto the roadway.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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