Who Ensures that Commercial Cargo is Properly Secured?

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Motorists in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and throughout the United States expect to find safe streets, highways and freeways where they are not unnecessarily or unreasonably exposed to danger or other risks. Unfortunately, cargo that is not secured or secured improperly can fall from personal vehicles and commercial vehicles significantly increasing the risk of a serious accident and a catastrophic injury.

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To address a host of issues, including the potential dangers of unsecured cargo falling from commercial vehicles and becoming dangerous roadway debris, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was formed in 2000. The stated goals of the FMCSA is to develop and implement safety regulations that will improve the safety of commercial vehicles and trucks. The FMCSA regulates the loading and securement of cargo on commercial vehicles potentially saving hundreds, if not thousands, of lives and preventing many catastrophic injuries.

To Which Companies or Organizations Do the FMCSA Cargo Securement Rules Apply?

The scope of the applicability of the rules developed by the FMCSA is set forth in 49 CFR § 390.3 and § 390.5. § 390.3(a) extends agency oversight to, “all employers, employees, and commercial motor vehicles, which transport property or passengers in interstate commerce.” A commercial motor vehicle, as defined in § 390.5 includes “any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway in interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle”:

  • Has a gross weight or gross combination weight of 10,001 pounds or more;
  • Is used to transport or designed to transport 8 or more individuals for compensation, inclusive of the driver
  • Is used to transport or designed to transport 15 or more individuals not for compensation, inclusive of the driver
  • Is transporting material declared to be hazardous by the Secretary of Transportation under U.S. law

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However, 390.3(f) carves out exceptions to the applicability of safety rules. Many of these exceptions were carved out to protect interests that would be impacted by regulation. These exemptions include:

  • School bus operations as defined in §390.5 stating that a school bus operation is, “the use of a school bus to transport only school children and/or school personnel from home to school and from school to home.”
  • Transportation that is handled and performed by the federal government, a state government, or an approved compact between states.
  • The irregular transportation of personal items for non-commercial purposes
  • When transporting individuals who are sick, injured or deceased
  • Emergency vehicles like ambulance and fire trucks
  • Certain commercial vehicles seating no less than 9 or more than 15 people that do not receive direct financial compensation.
  • Commercial vehicles whose primary purpose is to transport propane heating fuel

Of special note is the fact that, while government fleets are generally not subject to highway loading limits, vehicle design loading guidelines often do still apply.

How Must Cargo Be Secured?

A securing device is any item that is manufactured for the specific purpose of attaching or securing cargo to a truck or other commercial vehicle. Securing devices can include:

  • Plastic webbing
  • Ropes
  • Clamps
  • Latches
  • Friction mats
  • Chains
  • Bracing
  • Winches

In general, the use of securing devices and tie-downs must result in the cargo being immobilized or secured on or within the vehicle. Cargo should be prevented from moving or shifting during transport which can be accomplished by using inflatable bags to fill gaps or spaces between goods. Tie-downs and shoring bars can also be used in conjunction with or as an alternative to the inflatable bags. Furthermore, prior to embarking on his or her journey a commercial vehicle driver must inspect the cargo and securing devices and inform the carrier if the securing or immobilizing devices are inadequate.

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Aside from the general immobilization requirements, certain classes of goods and commodities require special treatment so that motorists are protected. The particular securement requirements for a number of types of cargo are defined in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s guidelines and includes:

  • 393.116 – Logs
  • 393.118 – Dressed Lumber and Similar Building Products
  • 393.120 – Metal Coils
  • 393.122 – Paper Rolls
  • 393.124 – Concrete Pipe
  • 393.126 – Intermodal Containers
  • 393.128 – Automobiles, Light Trucks and Vans
  • 393.130 – Heavy Vehicles, Equipment and Machinery
  • 393.132 – Flattened or Crushed Vehicles

Does Pennsylvania Have its Own Regulations to Protect People from Unsecured Cargo?

While federal law preempts any state or local laws or regulations that conflict, Pennsylvania has enacted its own laws to protect motorists on its roadways. The chief law in Pennsylvania regarding the hauling of and securing of cargo is § 4903. Securing loads in vehicles. The law sets forth the general requirement that “No vehicle shall be driven or moved on any highway unless the vehicle is so constructed or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping, shifting, leaking or otherwise escaping.” Furthermore, the law requires motorists to fasten the load so that it does not become loose or fall onto the roadway. The Federal rules may preempt all or parts of the Pennsylvania rules for commercial carriers and other covered organizations, but the Pennsylvania rule will be in force for those not covered by the federal regulations.

If you have suffered a serious injury, like a traumatic brain injury or broken bones, or if a loved one has been killed due to unsecured cargo, contact the experienced truck accident attorneys of The Reiff Law Firm. To schedule your free and confidential initial consultation, call (215) 246-9000 or contact us online.

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