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Driving on the highway can be dangerous even under the best conditions. Other drivers may be reckless or distracted. Poor weather can impair visibility and make the roads slick. But there’s another hazard that many don’t consider – unsecured loads. When cargo breaks free from a vehicle, it can turn into a deadly projectile capable of massive destruction. This article will examine the dangers of unsecured loads on highways and what can be done to improve safety.

The Dangers of Unsecured Loads

An unsecured load refers to any cargo that is not properly contained, covered, or tied down in a vehicle. This could include tools, furniture, pipes, loose boxes, gravel, logs, and more. If these items are not properly secured, they can shift, slide, or bounce out of the vehicle as it’s driving down the highway. Even at normal highway speeds, an unsecured load can gain incredible momentum and go flying long distances down the road or across medians into oncoming traffic.

Projectiles on the Highway

When an unsecured load breaks free, it immediately becomes a dangerous projectile. The high speeds on highways mean the object can be launched hundreds of feet at deadly velocities. Something as small as a tool can cause vehicle damage and injuries when it strikes another car or person. Large, heavy items like furniture or construction materials can smash through windshields and demolish vehicles when they come loose.

In some horrific cases, unsecured metal pipes have gone through the windshields of other cars and impaled drivers and passengers. Unsecured loads essentially turn vehicles into mobile trebuchets capable of firing deadly cargo across multiple lanes of traffic. This makes them an invisible but lethal threat to all highway drivers.

Loss of Control and Traffic Dangers

Aside from creating dangerous projectiles, unsecured loads can also lead to loss of vehicle control. When weight and cargo starts shifting inside a truck bed or trailer, it can alter the balance and handling. This makes the vehicle more difficult to steer and stop properly. An abrupt shift of the load could even cause a rollover accident.

The spilled cargo also creates immediate road hazards for other drivers. Debris strewn across lanes forces abrupt stops or swerving maneuvers, raising the risk of multi-car pileups. Unsecured loads essentially turn highways into unpredictable obstacle courses for everyone on the road.

Common Types of Unsecured Loads

While any poorly contained cargo can come loose, some types of loads are more prone to breaking free than others. These higher risk items require extra attention and securement.

Construction and Landscaping Supplies

Contractors carrying loose tools, gravel, pipes, lumber, and more need to take proper precautions. Ratchet straps, tarps, and containment should be used to keep this cargo from bouncing out. Even what seems like lightweight cargo can be whipped up by wind or vehicle forces.

Furniture and Appliances

Anyone moving household items in pickup trucks needs to secure the load. Strapping large furniture items to the truck bed can prevent them from sliding and toppling out at speed. Appliances in boxes should be roped down under tarps or secured in covered trailers. A loose refrigerator bouncing onto the highway can be a devastating and deadly obstacle.

Overloaded Pickup Truck Beds

Trying to haul too much cargo in an open pickup truck bed is hazardous. Even with a truck bed cover, overloading the truck can lead to cargo breaking free from the vehicle sides and tailgate. Load weight limits must be observed to keep the pickup and cargo stable.

Dump Trucks and Garbage Trucks

These work vehicles seem designed to contain loose cargo but require diligent loading and operation to prevent spills. Overflowing loads or raising the truck bed at high speeds can send debris flying. Any load should be mounded safely below the truck bed sides. Opening the back at highway speeds can also cause loss of cargo.

Auto Haulers and Car Carriers

Vehicles being transported on trailers and auto haulers must be properly secured. This can include chains, straps, wheel chocks, and other devices to keep cars and trucks immobilized. A vehicle coming loose at 70 mph can destroy anything in its path.

Improving Load Security

While unsecured loads continue to be a problem, there are ways truck drivers and fleet operators can improve cargo containment. Proper cargo securement protects everyone on the highway.

Pre-Trip Inspections

Drivers need to thoroughly inspect their cargo containment and restraints before each trip. Ratchet straps should be tightened and free of visible wear. Load covers and tarps should be checked for rips or holes. Any loose items need to be repacked or re-secured.

Proper Tie-Down Equipment

High quality ratchet straps, chains, netting, wheel chocks, and other cargo restraints should be used. They need to be appropriate for the size and weight of the load. Inspecting and replacing worn straps and tie-downs regularly is essential.

Load Distribution

Cargo should be distributed evenly across the truck bed or trailer. Putting too much weight on one side while the other is light can cause shifting and spills. Proper load distribution is critical for stability.

Drive Carefully

Even when properly loaded, drivers need to accelerate, brake, and maneuver smoothly. Sudden swerves and hard braking increase forces on the load. Gentle driving helps keep cargo stable and secure.

Cover and Contain Loose Items

Using tarps, cargo nets, container boxes and other containment methods for loose gear, gravel, trash, and other items prevents them from blowing away. Cargo covers on pickup trucks can help secure lighter items.

Legal Consequences

Allowing unsecured cargo to escape your vehicle doesn’t just put lives at risk – it can result in legal liability and penalties. All states prohibit loose cargo hazards on roadways.

Traffic Violations

Police will ticket drivers for unsecured loads that spill onto roadways. This can include fines and points on your license. Violations can range from failure to cover loads to criminal negligence for overloaded or abandoned cargo.

Accident Liability

If an unsecured load causes vehicle damage, injuries, or death, the driver and/or company can face serious civil liability and lawsuits. Multi-million dollar settlements are not uncommon in major highway accidents caused by unsecured loads.

Commercial Trucking Violations

For commercial trucks and fleet vehicles, allowing poorly secured cargo can lead to federal penalties, revoked operating authority, and criminal charges for drivers and owners. Companies can be ordered to increase driver training and improve load security practices.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by an unsecured load, please contact our firm today to discuss your case in a free consultation. Our experienced attorneys will fight to get you the maximum compensation you deserve while we handle all the legal work.

Visit our offices at:

  • Westerville – 4151 Executive Pkwy, Suite 355, Westerville, OH 43081
  • Mansfield – 33 S. Lexington-Springmill Rd, Mansfield, OH 44906

Or call now for a free consultation on (614) 224-4114.

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