Unsecured Loads: What Every Washington Driver Needs to Know

Every year, unsecured loads cause car accidents, injuries, and litter on Washington’s roads. Washington State drivers can face significant fines and even criminal charges if debris from their vehicle injures another person. Taking a few extra minutes to make sure your load is secure helps keep our roads safer and cleaner.

Consider this story: on March 12, 2022, a truck driver failed to secure his mattress while driving I5 in King County. The mattress flew out of his truck bed, causing a collision, and killing a young female driver. Even worse, the driver fled the scene. This kind of tragedy is preventable.

Given the importance of this topic, we wanted to investigate some of the startling statistics and laws that apply here in Washington State.

How Many Crashes are Caused by Unsecured Loads in Washington?

When drivers fail to secure their loads, the results can be both dangerous and costly.

Consider some of these sobering statistics:

  • In 2019, Washington State Troopers reported 154 collisions caused by unsecured loads.
  • For the same period, Troopers stopped 7,386 motorists with unsecured loads.
  • About half of the litter on Washington’s roadways comes from debris falling off vehicles.
  • AAA estimates that 200,000 collisions were caused in the 4-year period between 2011-2014, resulting in 500 fatalities and 39,000 serious injuries.

While these numbers are bad, they don’t tell the full story. For instance, some reporting metrics don’t distinguish if the debris causing a collision was natural (such as a fallen tree branch) versus a person’s poor decision. Also, many accidents are caused when motorists swerve to miss debris on the road. This debris may have flown off someone’s vehicle, but it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what happened.

How Do Unsecured Loads Cause Accidents?

There are several ways that unsecured loads on trucks and cars can trigger a collision.

  • Loose objects can strike other vehicles, cyclists, or pedestrians. When combined with highway speeds, some objects can become projectiles.
  • Cars can swerve or take other evasive maneuvers to avoid hitting objects in the middle of the road.
  • Cars or motorcycles can lose traction or become damaged if driving over objects on the roadway.
  • Dirt or debris flying off a truck has the potential to impact visibility for drivers following behind.

It’s dangerous anytime you have an unpredictable event occurring on the roadways. Drivers generally understand how to anticipate other drivers’ actions. It’s difficult to predict a piece of furniture flying off a truck bed, or suddenly encountering a trash bag in the middle of the freeway.

What is Maria's Law about Unsecured Loads in Washington State

What is Washington State’s Law about Unsecured Loads? 

It’s not only a good idea to tie down your load, in Washington State, it’s the law! This means that you could receive a ticket if you’re caught with an unsecured load on Washington’s roads.

Here’s what every Washington State driver needs to know:

  • If you are caught with an unsecured load, you could be fined $228.
  • In the event your unsecured load injures someone, your fine could go up to $5,000.
  • You can face criminal charges if your load injures someone. In other words, you could face jail time.

One Washingtonian woman has worked tirelessly to bring stricter punishments for drivers with unsecured loads. Robin Abel’s daughter Maria was blinded and nearly killed when a piece of particle board flew off the back of a trailer. Since then, Abel launched a campaign called Secure Your Load and has devoted her time to bring awareness and push for harsher penalties. In 2005, Washington even passed Maria’s Law, which makes it a criminal offense if a driver’s unsecured load injures or kills someone else.

What are Some Tips for Securing your Vehicle’s Load?

Thankfully, it’s not difficult to make sure your load is secure. Give yourself some extra time and make sure to have the right supplies on hand.

Here are some tips for how to secure your load:

  • Place lighter, looser items under heavier ones.
  • Use ropes, ties, or cables to secure heavy items.
  • Do not overload your vehicle.
  • Consider using tarps or netting to cover your load.
  • Allow yourself enough time to do a thorough job.

Washington State Patrol assembled this short video which provides some helpful visual instructions about how to properly secure your load. Watch for Robin Abel’s interview at the end of the clip:

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “would I feel safe if I was driving behind my car on the freeway?”

Victims of Crashes Caused by Unsecured Loads

What should you do if you’ve been injured in a car crash because someone was negligent and failed to properly secure their load? You might wonder who will pay for your medical bills and missed wages.

We recommend you involve a personal injury lawyer who deals with car accidents. A skilled lawyer will help determine the facts of the case and fight for fair compensation on your behalf. Please note that this process is separate from the criminal case that the driver may be facing.

For more specific help, please ask to talk to one of our lawyers. We offer free, confidential consultations and are happy to answer all your questions.

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