Maryland Highway Hazard: Unsecured Loads Cause Serious and Fatal Traffic Accidents, GOA Reports

A few years ago, we wrote about how the fall migration of students back to Maryland colleges brings with it a certain, hard-to-miss road hazard — unsecured loads. This year will likely be no different.

We’ll see them careening down Maryland interstates and highways: Mattresses strapped precariously to car roofs, their edges flapping in the breeze. Pickup trucks stacked willy-nilly with sofas, chairs, and other furniture, just a rope snap away from potential disaster. Suitcases, boxes, and other cargo that didn’t stay put litter the Maryland roadsides.

Such amateur efforts at loading cargo make us slap our foreheads and shake our heads in disbelief. But it’s no laughing matter when unsecured cargo comes loose and becomes a dangerous projectile and obstacle on Maryland highways. Baltimore County auto accident lawyers like us see the results of bad driving and risk taking on Maryland roadways. Poor decisions can lead to bad accidents.

With the annual migration of Maryland college students returning to school already in progress — the subject merits another look. Last year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to improve its data collection around unsecured loads and deadly motor vehicle accidents. The report authors write:

Vehicles carrying objects that are not properly secured pose a safety risk on our nation’s roadways. Debris that falls from a vehicle can collide with other vehicles or pedestrians, causing serious injuries or fatalities. According to data collected by NHTSA, there were about 440 fatalities caused by roadway debris in 2010. However, the exact number of incidents resulting from vehicles carrying unsecured loads is unknown.

The report notes that all 50 states and the District of Columbia have statutes related to unsecured loads for both commercial and non-commercial vehicles. Drivers of trucks and cars recklessly loaded with furniture and other items may be subject to fines and penalties, which vary from state to state. But that doesn’t stop people from slinging their belongings haphazardly into a pickup truck bed or onto the car roof and taking off down the road.

College students aren’t the only ones at fault. Amateur movers, collectors, junkers, contractors — anyone who has something to move and doesn’t take the time (or have the know-how) to properly secure the load can create a highway hazard.

The report commends a few states such as North Carolina and Washington for their public awareness programs aimed at educating motorists on properly securing loads. Until Maryland has such a program — and people take the time to learn — steer clear of hastily packed vehicles you see on the roadways. There’s no telling when a couch or mattress might become airborne with tragic results.

Related Maryland Accident Attorney article:

Maryland Highway Traffic Accidents Alert: Loading up for Back to College (Aug. 2009)


Federal and State Efforts Related to Accidents That Involve Non-Commercial Vehicles Carrying Unsecured Loads (Report Highlights)
GAO-13-24, Nov 15, 2012
HIGHWAY SAFETY: Federal and State Efforts Related to Accidents That Involve Non-Commercial Vehicles Carrying Unsecured Loads (Full Report — PDF)
United States Government Accountability Office, Report to Congressional Committees. Nov. 2012

Contact Information