Unsecured Load Incidents and RCW 46.61.655 in Washington

Unsecured Load Incidents and RCW 46.61.655: Lessons from a Rainy Day in Washington

It was a nasty Sunday afternoon where it rained non-stop which followed up with some hail to boot. This was the perfect opportunity after attending church with my family to go and grab lunch at the Old Spaghetti Factory, and do some shopping at Costco since playing outside was clearly out of the question.

Lunch was great with the family and off we headed to Costco in east Vancouver. We happened upon an outdoor table that my wife fancied for her patio and we were in luck they still had several in stock. We bought the table and three Costco employees and myself spent the next 20 minutes loading three giant boxes in the back of my Chevy Silverado. We tried several different arrangements, however, each arrangement left something to be desired as to how it sit or hung out the back or side of the truck. Eventually we settled on a configuration, but it still wasn’t ideal. Having left my straps at home I chatted with the 3 employees who all thought it would be fine if I drove slow as the lightest box was over 60 lbs.

I set out toward home and took it easy down 192nd and took Highway 14 toward my home in Salmon Creek. I stayed in the left lane and drove no faster than 50 mph. Just prior to the 205 interchange I saw the 60 lb. box on top catch air and fly out the back of my truck onto the highway. Luckily traffic wasn’t heavy and the box didn’t hit any vehicles. I stopped and put my flashers and called 911 for help as I didn’t want anyone to hit the box and damage their car, or worse get hit. Traffic seemed to slow and began going around my box on the freeway when another motorist stopped and helped me push the box over the construction jersey barrier. I then cleared the scene and exited the highway to attempt to try and loop back down a side street to retrieve the box.

A Trooper called me and told me he was going to attempt to locate the box. He called me back and directed me on how to get back to the area safely and even helped me load the box back into my truck. When we left the scene, I was able to re-enter traffic safely with his help and get to a place where I could buy a strap and secure the load. This fun family trip quickly turned into a stressful afternoon that could have been avoided.

Unsecured Load Hazards and incidents in Washington

RCW 46.61.655 states that No vehicle shall be driven or moved on any public highway unless such vehicle is construction or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting or leaking, or otherwise escaping therefrom. When researching this blog post, I was shocked to find that in 2019, Washington State Patrol reported 154 collisions caused by unsecure loads, and that troopers had made more than 7,386 stops involving unsecured loads. An unsecured load could merit a fine of $136.00, but if someone is injured a person could be charged with a gross misdemeanor or worse.

Maria’s Law: A Reminder of the Stakes About Unsecured load incidents in Washington

In 2005 Maria’s law went into effect making it a crime in Washington if your unsecure load injuries or kills someone. In 2004 Maria Federici left her shift at work in Kirkland, Washington when suddenly a piece of particle board flew off the back of a U-Haul and hit Maria’s car resulting in severe brain damage. In March, 2012 an unsecure mattress threw off a vehicle on I-5 near King County causing a collision which killed a young woman. To make matters worse the driver of the vehicle fled the scene.

Needless to say, I didn’t think a box weighing 60 lbs. or more would just fly out of my truck going at a relatively low speed. I also didn’t contemplate how dire of a situation this really could have been. As a criminal defense attorney and an attorney who has represented hundreds of clients issued traffic infractions, I should have known better and taken better precaution because I do try and drive in a reasonable and prudent manner.

Lessons Learned and Gratitude for Law Enforcement

I was definitely could have been issued an infraction for failing to secure my load. I was lucky this time and I plan to take it to heart be more prepared next time. I was also lucky to have a Trooper out on the road looking after my safety and my lost property. I have had the privilege in my law practice to work with many great Troopers who seek first to help those in need, and second to enforce traffic laws. Next time you see a State Trooper be sure to thank them for their service, and don’t be like me – secure your load and be safe on the roads.