Transporting freight is the backbone of the U.S. economy, where goods, equipment and merchandise are delivered to consumers from manufacturers and distributors worldwide. However, improperly secured cargo on a semi-truck flatbed can potentially threaten the life of truckers along with other motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians sharing the roadway.
Unfortunately, statistics indicate that one out of every four truck accidents is attributable to inadequately secured cargo loads. According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), approximately 5000 individuals lose their lives every year out of the 500,000 truck accidents occurring in the United States. This number is way too high, because cargo should never fall off a truck.
A Preventable Problem
The high incident rate of trucking accidents involving falling cargo is unacceptable because all of these accidents are preventable. This is because securing a load onto a truck to prevent an accident is simple to perform if the trucker or loaders understand basic physics.
The first basic principle of the laws of physics in trucking involves “a body in motion tends to stay in motion.” When the trucker applies the brakes the cargo will continue moving in its original direction even though the vehicle is stopping. However, this principle can be controlled when the cargo is properly secured into place to involve other essential parameters that include:
- Friction that occurs between the truck bed and its cargo,
- The load’s dimensions,
- The cargo’s weight and
- The load’s center of gravity.
If properly secured, the essential parameters and basic elements of physics can ensure the load will not slide or tip and cause an accident.
Road Safety Measures
Truckers are trained to operate their vehicle calmly and alertly to maximize their ability to foresee unexpected hazards and unusual driving patterns of others sharing the roadway. Even so, drivers operating a cargo-loaded truck often face the most dangerous scenarios that occur including:
- During sudden, hard braking and hard cornering,
- When turning at intersections and roundabouts,
- During strong acceleration,
- When changing lanes rapidly.
If the appropriate restraints are not firmly in place, the physical forces controlling the cargo can overcome the improperly secured load and potentially cause a catastrophic accident. When the trucker applies heavy brakes, the load exerts tremendous force that is almost equal to the cargo’s weight. Without adequate restraints, the load is thrust forward or to the side of the truck, which could negatively impact other motorists on the road.
The Trucker’s Responsibility
In addition to the cargo’s weight, friction and center of gravity, the trucker must also evaluate other factors to ensure safe transport. This includes the distribution of the load, cargo rigidity and transporting the cargo using the appropriate vehicle. Dangerous factors to consider include:
- Transporting a load that is heavy on the front, middle or end of the trailer,
- Cargo that can become loose if the secured load becomes uncontained,
- Moving a load using an inappropriate truck/trailer that cannot safely deliver the cargo to its destination.
Any one of these scenarios can increase the potential of the trucker being involved in a catastrophic accident.
Often times, truck operators will transport a delivery load by picking up a preloaded trailer filled with goods, equipment or merchandise. Even if the loaders, distributor or manufacturer ensure that the load has been secured, it is ultimately the shared responsibility of the trucker and the trucking company to make sure the cargo can be safely transported to its destination.
The Trucker’s Checklist
Truckers can follow a detailed cargo securing checklist that ensures the cargo is adequately loaded and secured for transport. The list includes:
- Inspecting the load to ensure securing lashes make it impossible for the cargo to move, wander or roll over from vibrating, vehicle turning or tipping.
- Inspect securing methods that include lashing, locking, blocking, or top over lashing.
- Ensure that the recommendations of the truck manufacturer, trailer manufacturer and blocking equipment manufacturer have been adhered to.
- Inspect the cargo load and securing equipment to ensure it can withstand common transport hazards including adverse weather conditions and bad roads.
- Inspect the load’sdistribution on the trailer to minimize the potential of a rollover or load shift by ensuring the cargo has a low center of gravity that is reasonably close to the truck’s longitudinal axis.
- Use additional cargo supports, straps, boards and friction mats
If the trucking company trains the truck operator to comprehend the laws of physics and follow basic guidelines for cargo securing and inspecting, many potential catastrophic accidents involving falling cargo can be prevented.