Investigators: Hundreds of U.S. motorist deaths attributed to unsecured loads

Image 1 of 2

Have you ever been driving on the freeway and found yourself behind an old rickety trailer filled with junk or next to a loaded down pick-up truck that didn't seem safe? It happens a lot on Twin Cities roads. This year alone, motorists have lost at least 5,000 items along Twin Cities freeways according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The lost debris can be anything including; ladders, lawn chairs, blocks and mattresses.


Drivers lose the items because they do not tie down the items securely onto their vehicles. In August, someone lost a mattress on 35E at Lone Oak Road in Eagan during morning rush hour. The driver of a truck could not stop in time, the mattress caught under it and caught on fire. The truck was destroyed by flames but the driver was not hurt.  Four days later, a Star Tribune delivery truck hit the bucket of a skid loader that was dropped by an unknown vehicle on Highway 169 in Hopkins. The impact caused the Strib truck to go into the ditch. The driver received minor injuries. Like the mattress, the owner of the bucket was never located.


According to a recent Federal study, as many as 440 deaths a year nationwide, can be attributed to unsecured loads. Steve Masberg lost his best friend due to an unsecured load just outside of Waseca, Minnesota in 2010. Masberg was driving his parents’ minivan with Steven Batt in the front passenger's seat. A 50-pound concrete block dropped off a passing flatbed truck and came through the passenger's side of the windshield. The 17-year old Batt was killed instantly. According to the accident reports, the driver of the flatbed truck did not tie down the landscape block he was hauling. 


The Fox 9 Investigators went to the driving track at the Minnesota Highway Safety and Research Center in St. Cloud to test different methods of tying down cargo. According to safety experts at the track, one of the best ways is to use a nylon ratchet strap. "Very strong material, very easy to use and readily available," said Larry Nadeau, Interim Director of the Center. Nadeau said many people use twine or rope but don't know how to tie proper knots or don't tie them tight enough.  Twine is often too weak to hold items against the forces of road speeds.  Bungie cords have too much give and can allow items to come free.


If you're following a questionable load there are things to do to avoid disaster according to Nadeau.  Situational awareness is key and leave enough space between your vehicle and a tipsy load. Follow the three second rule. Pick an object (road sign or post) on the side of the road even with the vehicle in front of you. If you reach the object before you can count to three, you are too close.  But if traffic is tight, keep an escape route in mind. Can you move to your right or left if an object flies at your vehicle?  If you have to leave the road, try not to yank the steering wheel or slam on the brakes. Keep the wheel steady and slowly roll to a stop.

To view the Youtube video seen in this story, click here.