In 2004, Maria Federici was driving on Interstate 405 in Washington state when an entertainment center flew out of an open trailer and smashed through her windshield.
“The driver actually had it (the entertainment center) tied,” says Robin Abel, Federici’s mother. “He accelerated on the freeway and the force of air made the entertainment center fly out.”
Federici was blinded by the accident. Since then, Abel has become a determined advocate for secured loads. Because of her efforts, “Maria’s Law” went into effect in Washington in 2005, making it a crime to fail to secure a load.
When aerodynamics takes over, the unsecured items in a truck or trailer effectively become weapons, which is why it’s vital that cargo doesn’t go airborne.
Captain Rob Huss of the Washington State Patrol believes there’s a misconception that most loss of load comes from large trucks.
“Although material does become dislodged from these vehicles, there are also pickup trucks and flatbeds that are hauling similar debris, and [those drivers] are not necessarily being as in tune as the truck drivers are,” Huss says.
Fortunately, Huss has found that commercial drivers understand how to move cargo safely. “The great majority fully embraces their responsibilities and is in tune with the laws set by federal motor vehicle safety standards,” he says.
In the interest of educating drivers, Bob Dissinger, director of sales at Kinedyne Corp., makers of cargo control equipment, spoke to Business Fleet about how to make cargo secure.
“That’s probably the greatest fallacy with people who assume they don’t need any cargo control because they’re only going a short distance or they won’t be going at high speeds,” Dissinger says. “You see it all the time.”
Here’s what you can do to keep your cargo under control.
1. Don’t use rope or bungee cords.
“Bungee cords are not rated at all for any kind of tie down,” Dissinger says. “They are good for securing tarps, but I would not trust a bungee or tarp tie to secure any kind of product in the back of a pickup or even a small flatbed.”
Because rope is generally not rated for weight, he added, it’s hard to know whether or not rope will do the job.
2. Use ratchet straps and cargo nets.
Ratchet straps allow drivers to achieve the amount of torque needed to secure the load. They’re rated for a particular working load limit, which is one-third of their breaking strength. Dissinger recommends using straps with a cumulative load limit equal to half the weight of the load. Therefore, tie downs for a 500-pound item should have a working load limit of at least 250 pounds.
Securing cargo is not expensive: light-duty tie downs cost $15 or less, a jacking cargo bar for a pickup truck is about $40, and a strong cargo net costs $150 to $200.
3. Make sure items don’t slide.
Tie downs, cargo bars and cargo nets will work to keep things from moving around, and they can be helped by rubber mats. Sandbags can be used for weighting down light items, but remember that sandbags can be a hazard if not secured themselves.
4. Always use two or more tie downs.
Even if one tie down will do the job, Dissinger recommends using at least two to ensure the straps have sufficient control over the cargo. “If you have an extra strap, throw it on,” he says. “It’s not going to take much more time to do it and they’re not expensive.”
5. Check the weight ratings on your anchor points.
Many pickup trucks come with various anchor points for attaching straps, but if they’re not included, there are aftermarket D rings or tie-down anchor points for pickup trucks. If you add them, make sure their weight ratings are appropriate for the cargo you’re carrying.
6. Use a tarp or cargo net to secure lightweight items.
Cargo nets ensure that lighter-weight items, such as green waste and garbage bags, don’t fly out. An anchored tarp will do the job as well.
7. Be sure your straps and tarp don’t become hazards.
Any kind of load securement – whether it’s tarps, straps or cargo nets – that comes loose becomes as much a danger as a loose load.
8. Balance the load.
Be sure the cargo’s weight is centered and placed as close to the axles as possible, which takes advantage of the vehicle frame’s strength. This is especially true with heavier cargo. If you’re carrying both heavy and light items, Dissinger recommends keeping the heavier things on the bottom and securing the lighter items on top.
If the load extends over the top of the cab, add extra load securement to the top of the load to account for the resulting wind resistance. “If you’re just using straps down low, the wind could actually push it free of those load restraints,” Dissinger says.
9. Use a cargo bar for heavier objects.
A cargo bar is a simple way to keep heavier objects from sliding around. Add a strap for added protection from sliding. Remember, however, cargo bars alone are ineffective in a rollover.
10. Use bars to secure cargo in vans without bulkheads.
If the van you’re driving doesn’t have a bulkhead, use a bar to add security. Tracks can be added to van interiors for moveable bar placement.
In all cases, remember you’re preparing for the worst-case scenario. “If you’re securing a load, you are securing it against an accident, especially a rollover,” Dissinger says.
That’s why no effort is too much when it comes to tying down cargo, a message that Abel and Huss hope will reach all drivers. “Securing a load properly is a small request to ensure the overall safety of everyone else,” Huss says.
State And Federal Legislation On Unsecured Loads
A November 2012 report* by the United States Government Accountability Office outlined state statutes pertaining to unsecured loads.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia reported having fines or penalties for violating unsecured load statutes ranging from $10 to $5,000, the report says. Fifteen states add the possibility of imprisonment. Ten states also reported having a safety or education program related to unsecured loads.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA),
about 440 fatalities were caused by roadway debris in 2010, the report says, though uneven reporting suggests that number could be higher. NHTSA is making an ongoing effort to better identify crashes involving unsecured loads.
Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Compliance Safety Accountability (CSA) program, launched in 2010, citations issued for improperly secured cargo are entered into the fleet’s Vehicle Maintenance BASIC (Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category). For fleets that fall within the purview of CSA, a lower score could lead to suspension of the fleet.
* “Highway Safety: Federal and State Efforts Related to Accidents That Involve Non-Commercial Vehicles Carrying Unsecured Loads,” November 2012, available at www.gao.gov.