Preventing the tragic consequences of unsecured loads
Have you ever had a small rock hit your windshield while you're driving down the highway? It can be startling. But, while it might nick your windshield, it most likely won’t affect the safety of your drive.
Now imagine that, rather than a small pebble from the roadway, your car was struck by a large piece of cargo that fell loose from a truck, trailer, pickup, or someone's car roof.
At 55 miles per hour, an object weighing just 20 pounds that falls from a vehicle strikes with the impact of half a ton.
That’s what happened to Robin Abel’s daughter.
In 2004, Robin's daughter was just a few hundred feet from her exit on Seattle's I-405 when an unsecured piece of furniture fell from an open trailer in front of her and caused catastrophic injuries to her head and face. Because of someone’s careless decision not to tie down the load in their truck, a 40-pound board flew through the windshield of her Jeep Liberty, and she was blinded for life.
Under the law at the time, the driver's actions were not considered criminal. When authorities located him, they could not charge him with a crime. Instead, they issued him a citation...for littering.
That's when Robin Abel began advocating to change the law in the State of Washington. Now, thanks to her efforts, “Robin’s Law” makes causing a death or injury by failing to tie down a load a crime accompanied by jail time and fines.
Robin's effort was a good start, but she knows more must be done.
A 2012 Government Accountability Office study mandated by Congress indicated that in 2010 unsecured loads and road debris caused 440 deaths and 10,000 injuries in more than 51,000 incidents. At the time of the study, only 15 states had laws including criminal penalties for operating with an unsecured load.
Only 10 states even had safety education programs relating to securing loads.
So now, Robin is working to educate more Americans nationwide about the danger of unsecured loads, and I want to add the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's voice to that effort:
When traveling, you must fasten all items securely to your vehicle. Just because an object in the back of a truck is heavy does not mean it can’t be ejected from a vehicle --even under everyday circumstances like hitting a pothole or braking sharply.
You might think hauling an unsecured item will be safe as long as you’re not going too far or if you make certain to drive "extra carefully." But this is no better than old excuses for not wearing a seat belt such as, “I’m just going around the corner,” or, “I’m not getting on the highway.”
Just as you would secure yourself or your child with a seat belt, you must tie down any load no matter how far or how fast you plan to drive.
Not sure how to secure your load? It's not that hard, and it doesn't take long. The Washington State Patrol even offers a helpful how-to video.
Drivers need to think about safety first by securing all loads and by reporting drivers who do not. If you see an unsecured load or something in the roadway, please call local law enforcement. Never attempt to clear road debris yourself.
Whatever you’re hauling needs to be secured because your safety and your neighbors’ safety depend on it. As Robin explains in the Washington State Patrol video, “Secure your load as if everybody you love is driving in the vehicle behind you.”
Here at NHTSA, we know that’s sound advice, and we urge you to take it to heart.