(KMSP) - A piece of plywood flew off a trailer a smashed through the windshield of an oncoming car on Highway 14 near Milford Township, Minn. According to the Minnesota State Patrol, a 71-year-old man and 69-year-old woman from Edina, Minn. suffered minor cuts and scratches and had some glass in their eyes.
The lumber smashed through the windshield of the couple's Honda Accord as they passed a trailer with an unsecure load on Hwy 14 in Milford on April 16.
“Miraculously it was not a fatal crash,” State Patrol spokeswoman Lt. Tiffani Nielson said.
While Nielson said tipsy loads don’t often lead to injuries or death in Minnesota, a 2012 federal study found loose loads are associated with as many as 440 deaths nationwide every year.
Yet just how often loose loads leave danger on our roads might surprise you.
“Getting called to debris in the lane of traffic is a daily occurrence.”
On April 17, the very next day after the plywood incident, a massive chunk of metal that also fell off of a trailer posed serious risk to drivers and motorcyclists on 35 W at 46th Street in Minneapolis.
Traffic cameras show one driver riding over the lost trailer gates who then blows a tire and spins out into the right shoulder. Thankfully a trooper was already on the way to conduct an emergency response called, “The Wiggle.”
“We will be swerving, driving across all the lanes of traffic, essentially to slow down build a wall of traffic behind us," Nielson said.
Once traffic is down to about 20 mph "The Wiggle" also allows state troopers to pull the debris off the roadway.
The job is as dangerous as it sounds.
"Sometimes these items are incredibly heavy and take a couple trips to get them off onto the shoulders,” Nielson said.
To avoid the danger unsecured loads leave in their wake:
- Keep your eyes on the horizon at least 10 seconds in front of you.
- Leave plenty of space between you and the driver carrying the load.
- Have an escape route in mind to the left or right of you should the load break free. It’s best to come to a slow, smooth stop. Also avoid yanking the steering wheel or slamming on your breaks.
If you’re carrying a load be certain you use proper straps and check the load every few miles or so. Otherwise you risk at least a misdemeanor offense.
In 2010, a man carrying an unsecure load was charged with criminal vehicular homicide after one of his 50 lb. concrete blocks killed a 17-year-old from Waseca.
The carrying driver had a prior load securement offense on his record.
“People who are putting anything on their vehicles should assume it can come off,” Nielson said.
So far this year, State Patrol has stopped at least 40 drivers for loose loads. Most only received warnings. Only two drivers have been cited.