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How Big a Factor is Improper Cargo Loading in Truck Accidents?

In 2015, there were 4,050 large trucks involved in fatal vehicle accidents. This marked an increase of 8% from 2014. Another 87,000 large trucks contributed to injurious crashes in 2015. The frightening number of accidents involving trucks raises the question of what causes these crashes and what people can do to prevent them. Large trucks can cause accidents in many ways, from driver error to poor vehicle maintenance. One of the leading causes is improper cargo loading.

Improper cargo loading can cause commercial trucks to become unbalanced. Sudden movements, like a turn, can cause the truck to swerve or even tip over in extreme circumstances. A top-heavy truck is more likely to hit another motorist and cause grave injuries. If you believe that your truck accident was caused by improper cargo loading, a Maryland truck accident lawyer can help you fight for what you are owed in court.

What Are the Rules for Loading Cargo on Trucks?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) enacts and enforces laws for the country’s trucking industry. The FMSCA is a government entity responsible for making sure that commercial trucks, and their drivers, are as safe as possible.

The FMCSA has rules regarding trucking hours of service, vehicle measurements, and load requirements. The most recent cargo securement rules from the FMCSA stem from years of research to evaluate and optimize cargo regulations in the U.S. Failure to obey these rules and/or load a truck with proper care, resulting in an accident, is negligent behavior.

The FMCSA based these rules on the North American Cargo Securement Standard Model Regulations, industry best practices, and recommendations from meetings among industry experts.

These rules apply to all commercial motor vehicles that carry cargo and operate in interstate commerce. The goal of these cargo rules is to prevent items from shifting on the truck or falling from vehicles. Here is an overview of the basic cargo securement laws as of today:

Acceleration and Deceleration

Cargo securement systems must withstand certain deceleration and acceleration movements in forward, rearward, and lateral directions. If the cargo shifts about inside the truck, the center of gravity of the vehicle could rapidly change as the cargo moves around. Such changes could make the truck handle differently for the driver from one moment to the next and make it very difficult to drive safely.

Structural Integrity of Securement Systems

All systems used to secure cargo must have no weakened or damaged parts that could affect their performance. There are manufacturing standards tie-downs must meet, including working load limit values. Securing systems that do not meet standards may come loose and cause cargo to shift around when it should not. In extreme cases, the cargo could exit the rear door of the trailer onto the roadway, posing a great risk for drivers. Objects coming out of a truck at high speed could hit another vehicle, and cargo strewn about as debris on a roadway makes it less safe to drive.

Proper Attachment

Cargo loaders must attach and secure each tie-down in a way that prevents it from opening, releasing, or loosening during transport. Usually, the requirement is that all corners of a piece of cargo need to be firmly secured to the vehicle so that it cannot move beyond a certain small distance. For some cargo, like automobiles, there are dedicated attachment points for tie-downs to be secured for transport. Anytime a sharp edge might cut the tie-downs, loaders must use edge protection. An improperly secured or protected cargo load is at risk of coming loose and putting other motorists in danger.

Commodity-Specific Requirements to Prevent Truck Accidents

Some items, when transported, have special rules beyond the need to be properly secured inside a commercial truck. These rules are outlined in 49 CFR § 393. If these items are not properly secured, serious injuries can result.


Logs and lumber pose a great danger to drivers if they fall off of a truck on the road. 49 CFR outlines the rules for safely securing logs to trucks.

The logs must be on a truck designed or modified to transport logs. Tie-downs are not enough to safely secure logs. They must be used in combination with stakes or another securing mechanism.

The logs themselves must be “solidly” packed. This means that the logs are not moving around while the truck is moving. Additionally, logs cannot extend past the length of the vehicle bed on which they are being transported.

Metal Coils

Large metal coils are used in all sorts of industrial applications. Like any other large, heavy object, if it falls off a truck, it can cause enormous damage.

49 CFR § 393.120 requires that each coil be tied down so that it cannot move in any direction. At least one tie-down is required to pass through the “eye” of the coil and be secured on the other side.

If the coils are secured in rows, tie-downs are required on the sides and top of the row of coils. The coils themselves must be set up in a way to prevent tipping or shifting position when the truck is moving.

Intermodal Containers.

Intermodal containers, more commonly just called “shipping containers,” are used to move cargo from one place to another via different transportation systems. If a package starts out on a boat and then gets loaded onto a truck, chances are it made the journey in an intermodal container.

49 CFR § 393.126 governs how intermodal containers must be secured to trucks. All four corners of the container must be secured to the chassis by means that cannot “unintentionally” come loose. These securing devices must not allow the container to move any more than one half on an inch in any direction.

If the container is placed on a truck bed instead of a chassis, it must be secured by chains or wire rope. Again, these chains or ropes must be set up in a way that they cannot become intentionally unfastened.

Automobiles, Smaller Trucks, and Vans

18-wheelers are so large that they can transport other vehicles from one place to another. 49 CFR §393.128 governs how these smaller vehicles must be secured to trucks.

Like most other heavy items, automobiles must be secured at the front and rear in such a way that they cannot move about while on or in the trailer or truck bed. Additionally, any tie-downs used must be secured to special mounting points on the vehicle designed for that purpose.

Improper Loading and Truck Accidents

Improper loading is detrimental to the safety of the truck driver and all other drivers on the roadway. In an open bed, improper loading could lead to tie-downs coming loose and material falling off the truck and onto the roadway. The truck driver is also not completely without risk. If the cargo shifts forward instead of backward, the consequences could be fatal. A truck driver can die from an improperly secured load launching into their cabin.

A major accident, vehicle pileup, and fatalities can all result from improper truck loading. If the items are combustible, such as gas or propane tanks, improper loading could cause dangerous fires and explosions if the items fall off the bed and into the road. In a closed truck bed, improper weight distribution and rolling loads could cause the truck to roll over during sharp turns. There is no end to the ways improper loading can cause a truck accident.

After a truck accident occurs, the police will investigate the cause of the crash. If police find that improper cargo loading contributed to or caused the crash, the victim(s) of the accident may have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit.

Possible Defendants in a Truck Accident Lawsuit Based on Improper Loading

Defendants could include the trucking company for failing to train its cargo loaders, the loaders for negligently securing the cargo, the manufacturers of the tie-downs for dangerous defects, and other parties. An attorney can help accident victims determine the defendant(s) and file a claim with the civil courts.

Improper loading is a common form of negligence involved in truck accidents. Because of their excessive size and weight, these vehicles pose major threats to passenger cars. Negligent cargo loading can be devastating, causing other vehicles to swerve or strike items falling into the road.

It is likely negligent in placing a load that is too heavy or secured in ways that are not acceptable under FMCSA rules on or in a truck. Find out who may be liable for your cargo-related truck accident.

Talk to a Truck Accident Lawyer Today

Speak to a Towson truck accident attorney at Rice, Murtha & Psoras today at (443) 648-9952 for a free case review.