We've all seen it: A box falling out of the back of a truck that causes you to hit the brakes. A mattress tied to the roof of a car so precariously you slow down or switch lanes. Most of the time those are just scares -- but nearly 400 people a year aren't so lucky.
That's the number of people injured nationally every year due to debris from unsecured vehicle loads, according to federal estimates. And each of those 400 injuries could be prevented.
Renton's Robin Abel knows these stats far too well. She's the force behind "Maria's Law" in Washington state as well as new federal recognition of the dangers unsecured loads pose to anyone on the road. Today, June 6, 2016, Abel is kicking off the first Secure Your Load Day, which she hopes will bring even more attention to the dangers.
Abel never intended to become a crusader. But a February phone call in 2004 changed everything.
Her daughter, Maria Federici, was blinded by a piece of furniture that fell from a rented moving trailer in front of her and crashed into her windshield on Interstate 405. The impact nearly killed her and made Abel an overnight activist.
Maria's Law was signed into law in 2005, and means drivers in Washington face possible jail time if their unsecure loads seriously injure someone. Late last year new federal regulations also highlighted the danger and also made secure load projects eligible for grant funding. Despite increased awareness, though, Abel said she's heard from dozens of families with similar stories and there are still far too many drivers taking risks out on the roads today.
Just this past Friday, for example, a 19-year-old Kirkland man was hospitalized with a broken arm when a piece of metal broke free from a truck on State Route 97 near Leavenworth and smashed into his windshield. State troopers said he was "extremely fortunate" to be alive.
"The bottom line is there should be nothing loose in your pickup – nothing," Abel said. "Even a hammer thrown in the back becomes a weapon at 55 mph."
Abel isn't done with her work. She wants to reach out to state agencies across the country to raise awareness and beef up penalties. But she said her main goal is just to remind everyone to be careful.
"Secure your load as if everyone you loved was in a car behind you," she said. "It can be catastrophic if you don't."
Tips for Securing Your Load:
- Use straps, tarps or strong netting – not twine – to firmly secure loads to your vehicle.
- The "cram" technique also isn't enough – tightly packed loads can still come loose unless they're tied down.
- Double check everything is tied down securely before heading out.
- Speak up. If you see a friend, neighbor or family member with an unsecure load, talk to them about the safety risks.