Drop Your Cargo at its Destination...Not in the Road
By Universal Underwriters Group's Loss Prevention Department

Danger on the Highway: Bad things happen when automobiles traveling 60-70 mph hit pieces of steel (like auto parts or other items in the road). Many of us have watched while relatively small pieces of rock or debris have hit, cracked or broken our windshield. Imagine your car colliding with a much larger 12-pound alternator at over 6,000 feet per second. The results of such a collision can be devastating.

Once materials are in the roadway only a few things can happen, and most of those are bad:

• The vehicle strikes the part and suffers tire, front-end damage or possibly crashes;
• The driver swerves to miss the debris and involves others in the accident; or
• A vehicle kicks the part up in the air, and through the windshield of a second car. A recent incident like this one resulted in a fatality and in criminal charges being filed against the driver of the vehicle that dropped the material.

In 1998, the Texas Department of Public Safety reported 1,041 vehicle accidents involving debris on the road. Over the next 24 months three people died and one was critically injured in north Texas when their vehicles were struck by flying debris.

You need to be aware that liability also can result from these accidents. Federal regulations by the Department of Transportation specifically hold the driver responsible for the security of their cargo. The best action is to secure all loads and keep those materials in the vehicle or trailer.

First things first— check and inspect the vehicle: Whether operating a pickup, heavy-duty truck or towing a trailer, the power unit is the most important component in the system. If the towing or hauling vehicle is in unsafe condition then the hazards are greatly increased. Depending on the vehicle, federal safety standards may require a thorough pre- and post-trip inspection. Even when not required by law it makes good sense to ensure your equipment is safe and in good operating condition. These inspections include, but are not limited to:

Lights-brake, turn signals; headlights-clean, operational; brakes-pedal firm; engine oil level; spare tire; horn; accident reporting kit; truck bed/trailer free of debris; tires-good condition, pressure; brake fluid full, no leaks noted; transmission fluid; windshield washer fluid; emergency equipment-flares, reflectors; windshield wipers; seat belts; and cargo nets/tiedowns installed, in proper condition for use.

Keep it under control and off the road: The entire loading process is critical, from "pre-load inspection" through a "final load check." Taking shortcuts in this process can lead to major problems later. Take time to make your load safe and secure. Know and understand the limitations of the vehicle and trailer. Do not load more than it can safely carry. Consider weight, volume and center of gravity. Although the load you are considering may fall within the vehicle's capacity, it still would not be safe to transport if you stack it 10-feet high. Other considerations:

• Inspect the trailer or truck bed prior to using it. Look closely at tires, the integrity of the frame, holes in the truck bed, rails, gates and cargo security devices (serviceable condition).
• Inspect anchor points used to secure load to ensure they are reliable.
• Ensure you have sufficient nets, straps, tarps or chains to secure the load.
• Palletize or containerize as much as possible to decrease the possibility of cargo flying out.
• Cover the load with cargo nets, web harnesses or other load security equipment.

How you drive makes a difference: Safe driving habits will not only help prevent conventional vehicle accidents, but also will keep cargo secure. Erratic driving or violent or sudden movements in any direction can shift or eject cargo. High speed driving is dangerous because the lift generated by the wind flowing over the vehicle can pick up even heavy items and push them out of the cargo area. Beware of rough road surfaces, potholes, bumps and other debris on the roadway that can bounce items out of the vehicle or off the trailer. Slow and steady is the right way to drive.

Bottom line— $: The bottom line is that materials falling off your vehicles can cost your business money in many different ways. Loss of profit on stock or inventory destroyed or damaged in this manner. The human cost of serious vehicle accidents involving roadway debris is paramount. The public relations damage to your company's reputation by seeing your vehicle on the evening news can not be calculated. Throw in possible criminal charges against your driver/company. It is sound business, risk management, and safety practice to secure your cargo properly.


Gerry Cecil is the National Account Executive for the Special Account Services division of Universal Underwriters Group. For more information about how Universal Underwriters Group, Special Account Services can help your automotive recycling business needs call 800-840-8842, ext. 4845, visit www.uuic.com/specaccts/ara.asp or e-mail: uuic.specaccts@us.zurich.com.

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