Road debris can be deadly: Secure your load ‘as if everyone you love is driving in the car behind you’

Photo by Jongho Sho, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — To understand the seriousness of properly securing your vehicle’s load, consider this: AAA found that over a third of all deaths from road debris were caused by drivers swerving to avoid an object in the road.

Thursday was “National Secure Your Load Day,” but securing your load is important every day, especially considering the dangers that can come from loosely secured cargo. One of these dangers — fallen road debris — is scattered across Utah’s highways and interstates.

Utah Highway Patrol troopers see the consequences of this particular danger daily. In fact, road debris incidents are among the most frequent calls they respond to, according to a statement released by the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Over the past three years, troopers have logged more than 78,000 road debris/hazard calls — that’s an average of 71 times per day.

“Secure your load as if everyone you love is driving in the car behind you,” road safety advocate Robin Abel said.

According to the Utah Department of Transportation, “unsecured loads are dangerous, not just for drivers but for Utah Highway Patrol Officers who must remove items that have fallen off vehicles.”

Road debris and crashes infographic | Image courtesy of AAA Research Foundation, St. George News

UDOT states that both officers and other motorists have been killed from debris on roads and freeways left by “negligent vehicle operators.”

Last year more than 700 crashes across the state were caused by road debris from unsecured loads, UDOT public information officer John Gleason said.

Crashes caused by debris are more likely to occur on highways or interstates, where speeds are greater – and so is the danger, Gleason said.

When an object is launched out of the back of a trailer or truck on the interstate, for example, it leaves little time for motorists trailing behind to react.

“Even if you are focusing on the road and paying attention, the last thing you are expecting to see is a couch or some other object coming at you as you’re driving down the interstate,” Gleason said.

So much debris is collected from Utah’s roadways, in fact, that UDOT put together a living room that was placed in a trailer and hauled to various locations to be used as a visual indicator of the magnitude of the problem.

“I mean, we had refrigerators, couches, washing machines, lamps and so many other items,” Gleason said. “It was hard to believe.”

Gleason said drivers with unsecured loads who think “nothing will happen” if they’re only going a short distance don’t have the facts to back up such a belief.

“Some times people will think the trip will be fast, they aren’t going very far, but the reality is that every load needs to be secured,” he said, “because it only takes a second for an object to come loose and fly out, no matter how short the trip is.”

Gleason added that everyone needs to take responsibility for securing the items they are hauling:

No one wants to be responsible for causing a crash that either injures another motorist — or worse.

Click here to view the the Utah Department of Public Safety’s “Secure your Load” video

Under Utah law, a vehicle may not operate on any highway unless it is constructed or loaded in a way that prevents its contents from dropping, sifting, leaking or otherwise escaping, and any vehicle hauling trash must have a covering over the entire load.

If carrying dirt, sand, gravel, rocks, pebbles or scrap metal, it must have a covering over the entire load, unless:

  • The highest point of the load does not extend above the top of any exterior wall or sideboard of the cargo compartment.
  • The outer edges of the load are at least six inches below the top inside edges of the exterior walls or sideboards of the cargo compartment.

Motorists who fail to secure their loads can face hefty fines.

According to the Utah Transportation Code, drivers can be fined no less than $200 for not securing a load properly, if it is their first offense. If they have another offense within a three-year period, the fine more than doubles to $500.

For commercial vehicles, the fines are even higher – $500 for the first offense and $1,000 for the second offense.

Dangers of road debris across the U.S.

Road debris caused by unsecured loads is not a problem isolated to Utah.

The most recent study from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found there were more than 200,000 motor vehicle crashes from 2011 through 2014 involving debris on the country’s highways, resulting in 39,000 injuries and more than 500 deaths. AAA researchers found that:

  • Nearly 37% of all deaths in road debris crashes resulted from the driver swerving to avoid hitting an object.
  • More than 1 in 3 debris-related crashes occur between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the time when many people are on the road hauling or moving heavy items, such as furniture or construction equipment.
  • Debris-related crashes are much more likely to occur on interstate highways.

The Utah Department of Public Safety provides information and tips on how to properly secure cargo on its website.

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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