AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that incorrectly secured cargo is responsible for more than 25,000 crashes and nearly 90 fatalities in the United States each year. Nearly two-thirds of debris-related crashes are the result of items falling from a vehicle because of improper maintenance and unsecured loads.
More than one in three crashes involving debris occur between 10 a.m. and 3:59 p.m., when many people are on the road hauling or moving heavy items like furniture or construction equipment.
With more than 40 million people moving each year and 80% of those packing up and hitting the road between April and September, ‘tis the season to decrease your chances of being involved in a road debris crash by doing three things:
Secure vehicle loads.
Securing Vehicle Loads
Whether moving second-hand dorm items or grandma’s antique hutch, the first rule in safely securing your load is to use the right equipment. Never mind the weathered rope hanging in the shed or the bungee cords you’ve kept just for this purpose. They might work fine for a slow ride around the block but if you had to swerve or make a fast, emergency stop, that cargo will go flying. What looks secure driving at residential speeds can easily become a projectile at highway speeds.
Only use heavy-duty ratchet straps that are 1-1/4 inch or wider and, when not in use, store them where they are protected from moisture and sunlight. If you are transporting long items, like lumber, don’t rest them on a raised tailgate. Lay out several ratchet straps along the bottom of the bed and load the longest and heaviest pieces over the straps, stacking shorter lengths on top. Secure the cab end, the middle and the trailing end with the straps. Then anchor the entire bundle to the bed of the truck with two ratchet straps, crisscrossing the straps across the load and attaching one end to the cab end anchor rings and the other to the farthest bundle strap.
Lighter materials can flop around in the bed of a pickup and become damaged, or worse yet, go airborne into another vehicle. Use stretch cling film and wrap it around the items to create a bundle. This will help secure lighter items together. Then cover the load with a cargo net and snap the retainer clips on the net into the anchor points on your truck bed.
The rule of thumb for safe driving is to maintain at least a three-second following distance behind the vehicle in front of you. When following a vehicle hauling cargo or towing an object, back off even more. The AAA Foundation suggests drivers continually search the road at least 12 to 15 seconds ahead for debris.
Slow down. Whether you are following a vehicle that’s hauling a wooden hutch or you’re driving a truck carrying college dorm décor, slower speeds make it easier to avoid contact with debris and avoid accidents in general.
Maintain Vehicle and Towing Equipment
Before you tow a trailer, test your brake lights and make sure brakes are working properly. When towing, you need more stopping distance so even slightly worn brakes could be hazardous.
Check the hitch ball each time you are planning to haul to make sure it hasn’t loosened and is firmly attached to the draw bar. Always stay within the towing capacity limits of your towing gear.
Always use safety chains — they are the only thing keeping the two vehicles together if the trailer becomes unhitched.
Check the tires on your vehicle and your trailer. Badly worn or underinflated tires often result in blowouts that leave pieces of tire along the roadway.
Visually inspect exhaust systems and the hardware for rust and corrosion that can lead to mufflers and other parts dragging and breaking loose.
Let’s get moving this summer — safely.
Sources: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, Advance Auto Parts, Family Handyman