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Have you ever wondered, “What if I need to haul something in an open trailer?”

Recently, Ryan found himself needing to haul a massive play-set for his daughters (Gabi and Winnie) from Yelm all the way to his home in Seattle.  He knew that such a structure would not fit in his car so he decided to rent a trailer to haul the play-set.   Being the responsible and careful person that Ryan is, before renting the trailer, Ryan decided to research Washington law to figure out if there was anything in particular he needed to do to comply with the law, other than safely securing the load.

As it turns out, he found that the laws are pretty much what you would expect in this regard; you are in fact required to properly secure any and all loads before driving a vehicle. An unsecured load is one that has not been fastened in or attached to the vehicle with tarps, rope, straps, netting, or chains, so as to prevent any part of the load or the covering from becoming loose, detached, or leaving the vehicle while it is moving. The requirement to secure loads is set out in the “Rules of the Road,” RCW 46.61.655, which is enforced by Washington State Patrol.

Hopefully you are not asking yourself, “What is the big deal driving with an unsecured load?”  If you are, be warned that securing your load is a very big deal. A report by the American Automobile Association estimates that 25,000 accidents result from unsecured loads in North America, and an average of 400 accidents involving road debris occurs each year on Washington State highways. And let us not forget that nearly 12 million pounds of litter fall on Washington roads each year from vehicle-related road debris.

So what happens if you fail to properly secure whatever it is you are hauling? Two things.  First and foremost, you place others at risk of serious harm or even death.   Simple steps, such as correctly using and attaching straps, can minimize risk of injury to other drivers.  Second, you may be required to pay a fine and possibly face criminal charges.   In the past, drivers faced only a traffic citation and a fine of around $250; however, in 2005 a law was enacted, providing that drivers could be charged with a gross misdemeanor if their failure to secure their loads resulted in physical harm. The Maria Law, as it is known, was named for Renton resident Maria Federici, who was blinded and nearly killed in 2004 when a piece of unsecured furniture fell from a U-Haul trailer and smashed through her windshield as she drove on Interstate 405. Maria’s family, most notably her mother Robin Abel, were shocked to learn that no laws were broken by the driver’s negligence, thus preventing Maria from receiving crime victim’s assistance. In response, Abel worked tirelessly to change the law and House Bill 1478 was drafted, criminalizing the failure to secure a load in Washington. This allowed guilty parties to be charged with a gross misdemeanor, face a year in jail and a $5,000 fine, making this legislation one of the nation’s strictest law in this area.  Way to go Robin!  

So how did Ryan secure the play-set?  First, before he picked up the trailer, he made sure his hitch and vehicle could tow the trailer and the play-set, which it could.  Next, after he had the trailer attached, he confirmed that it was safely secured to his hitch and that all signals on the trailer were working.   When he arrived in Yelm and finally moved the play-set into the trailer, he secured it to the rails with furniture straps.   Fortunately, Ryan use to deliver furniture at The Big Guys during his college summers, so he has experience securing heavy loads.  Ryan first took moving straps and individually secured each leg of the structure to prevent it from moving throughout the trailer.  He then took two additional straps and ran those across the base of the second level and attached each to the side of the trailer.  These straps on the second level held the top level in place in the rare chance that several of the 6 inch steel bolts securing the second level to the first might loosen. Once the play-set was safely in the trailer and secured, Ryan measured the height to make sure he would not encounter clearance issues with any overpasses.  Finally, once in the car and on the road, Ryan drove very slowly from Yelm back to Seattle to make sure everything stayed secure.   Fortunately, it was the Sunday of the Fourth of July weekend so traffic never moved above 20 mph on I-5 North. 

The most important thing to remember here is that you are required by Washington Law to properly secure any load you will be hauling, and failure to do so may cause serious harm to someone else, resulting in a fine or in criminal charges to you. For your safety and that of everyone else on the road, make sure you secure whatever you are hauling, whether it is lumber, garbage, or even a giant play-set for your kids.  Furniture straps can be purchased at any local hardware store or moving supply store.  If you don’t have the time or the energy to secure the load, do yourself and everyone a favor and hire someone who can take the time to secure the load and deliver it safely.  Your kids will thank you!

The material on this web site is for informational purposes only. We are not providing legal advice. Using this website does not create an attorney-client relationship between Pauley Law Group, PLLC and the user or browser. You should contact Pauley Law Group, PLLC directly at 206-684-9454 to obtain legal advice or legal representation.

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