Anything that flies off a moving vehicle is dangerous, and even deadly. When you carry a load in a truck bed, open trailer, or in the back of a car with an open tailgate, the wind and vibrations from high speeds, quick starts and stops, and other conditions of your moving vehicle can cause material to shake off or blow away. Material that falls from vehicles also makes up about half of the debris littering roads, adding to the public cost of roadside litter pick-up.
Although it is illegal in Washington to travel with an unsecured vehicle load, the Washington State Patrol reports that troopers investigated 154 collisions caused by unsecured vehicle loads in 2019 and contacted 7,386 motorists for failing to secure their vehicles’ load. And, that’s only a small slice of the picture, because local law enforcement addresses the same issue.
“A 20-pound object at 55 MPH has a force of 1,000 pounds at impact.”
-- Robin Abel, Secure Your Load Day founder
National Secure Your Load Day is held annually on June 6th and honors people whose lives are impacted or taken by unsecured vehicle loads and road debris, and encourages all drivers to properly secure their loads every time they drive.
Washington resident Robin Abel started the Secure Your Load movement in 2004 after an unsecured load blinded and nearly killed her daughter, who was struck by a piece of particle board that flew out of a trailer ahead of her vehicle on I-405. At that time, there were no federal or state laws making unsecured loads a crime.
“We put on our seat belts and fasten our children in car seats, so why is it that we think it’s OK to leave anything loose in the bed of our trucks and risk endangering others on the road?” asks Abel.
Abel was unsatisfied with the lack of vehicle load enforcement and in 2005 led the passage of HB 1478 in the Washington Legislature — Maria’s Law (named after Abel's daughter). It sets increased fines and penalties for transporting unsecured loads, and requires tarps, netting, or other tie-down materials to secure cargo. In addition, if an unsecured load causes substantial bodily harm, the driver can be charged with a misdemeanor and criminal negligence.
“Unsecured loads and road debris are not freak accidents, but frequent incidents, and most are preventable with just a few minutes of time and a few dollars in equipment,” says Abel.
Abel continues to lead the way locally and nationally to help change laws and raise awareness about the avoidable danger of unsecured loads. Today, 48 states and Canada recognize Secure Your Load Day and educate the public on the importance of load securement. Each state observes the day in its own way, and many counties and cities also have educational campaigns and enforcement patrols.
The fine for driving with an unsecured load in Washington is $228. If an item falls out and causes bodily harm or property damage, the driver faces gross misdemeanor charges and penalties of up to $5,000 and/or up to a year in jail. In addition, some solid waste transfer facilities and landfills charge additional fees for unsecured loads. If you see someone traveling with an unsecured load, call 911 to report it.
Unsecured loads caused 683 deaths, 19,663 injuries, and 90,266 traffic incidents in the U.S. in 2016, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Unsecured loads also cause harmful and ugly road debris. A study by the AAA Foundation for Safety found that as a nation, states spend $11.5 billion combating litter, 40% of which comes from unsecured loads.
Roadside litter affects every corner of Washington
Roadside litter is an unrelenting and expensive problem in Washington. We distribute millions of dollars in grants each biennium to local governments and other state agencies to pick up and prevent litter through the Community Litter Cleanup Program and Interagency Agreements. The Ecology Youth Corps program also employs hundreds of youth and adults to clean roadside litter.
In 2019, Ecology-funded programs picked up 4.8 million pounds of litter and cleaned 22,904 miles of road statewide. Volunteer crews also picked up hundreds of thousands more pounds. While these stats are impressive, this is just a fraction of the estimated 12 million pounds of litter deposited on Washington’s roads each year.
The Washington State Department of Transportation spends $4 million a year cleaning the state’s roads and highways. This includes operating a robust Adopt-A-Highway program and managing contracts for Department of Corrections crews. Still, there is far more litter deposited than can possibly be picked up.
Covering or securing your load will keep money in your pocket. You’ll keep the roads safer. And you’ll be doing your part to keep Washington clean and beautiful. Remember, even a "quick trip" to the landfill or helping a friend move requires tying down and securing all items.
“Secure Your Load as if everyone you love is driving in the car behind you,” Abel adds.
by Amber Smith, Statewide Litter Prevention Coordinator