Roadtrip! Securing Loads for Transport

I just got back from a roadtrip of about 500 miles each way to help my niece celebrate her high school graduation. It’s a very big thing in Michigan to hold these enormous open houses with hundreds of guests, resembling a production more along the lines of a full-blown wedding than the low-key family gatherings I recall.

The long weekend included my entire family and a mini caravan of two vehicles. We traveled about eight hours each way (with frequent breaks for the little ones) and traversed what certainly must be one of the busiest stretches of highway in the Midwest between Chicago and Gary, Ind. Because I was not one of the drivers on this excursion, the ride was a terrific opportunity to catch up on some much-needed sleep (and trust me, I did!), plus there was ample time spent simply staring out the window at traffic as my sister-in-law maintained marathon-like stamina in the chatter department.

I realize that, by virtue of the fact that I am employed by a company that sells products used in moving and hauling things, I am now keenly aware of these items on the vehicles around me. I scoped out countless cargo carriers, roof bags, cargo bars, all kinds of hitch-mounted racks and more. It was a bit like a scavenger hunt. I even caught myself taking note when that storage rack had a Thule roof box or a Yakima bicycle rack, two of the brands we carry. Hmm, must be investing in my job. Yikes.

The Problem

And through all of this scanning, scanning, scanning, I was ultimately shocked to see just how careless (or unaware) some people were with the loads they were hauling. Amazing! In all the lanes of traffic around us, items were flapping, billowing, rattling and bouncing, threatening to launch at any moment. Yes, I posted an entry to this very blog about tie-down straps as recently as a couple weeks ago, but this truly is a matter not just of preserving personal property, but of safety for the many motorists on packed and busy highways.

The reports I researched indicate that approximately 25,000 accidents occur each year in North America due to vehicle-related road debris (VRRD). A certain amount of these may be caused by tire debris or wheels falling off, but many of the events (and deaths) are directly related to loads that shift or loosen in transport, or were simply never secured in the first place because the driver believed their destination was such a “short trip,” no securement was warranted.

Items that are counted among the VRRD typically fall within these categories:

  • Debris / refuse (perhaps items like trash bags of plastic cups, paper plates and streamers following a graduation party)
  • Household goods (an old refrigerator, sofa or outdated shelving unit)
  • Tools and equipment (a mower or aluminum ladder)
  • Building materials (lumber and drywall are the big ones here)
  • Loose materials (such as mulch or gravel for landscaping)


In many states, VRRD that can be traced back to a driver results in heavy fines or, in the event of a death, is considered a criminal offense that could lead to jail time. And if you are a motorist who sees VRRD on a roadway, there is an underlying responsibility to report its location to authorities. Pileup accidents are not unusual when a driver makes a sudden swerve to avoid an item in the road that has already been in the lane of traffic for some time.

There are some states you’d expect to be the leaders in VRRD incidents by virtue of the many motorists they have on the road, as well as highly mobile lifestyles, etc. California, for example, is one of them. But other states, such as Utah, are a bit more unexpected. In Washington state, for example, accidents caused by debris on the road are a big enough problem that they have public service campaigns addressing the issue to help educate the public in good tie down practices.

Tips for Securing Cargo

A few very basic tips can help exponentially in preventing trouble with cargo loads coming loose or flying from here to kingdom come.

  1. Get yourself a quality set of tie downs.

    They may be a slightly greater investment, but there IS a difference, trust me. Well-made tie down straps, with normal and proper use, should last a long, long time. (There is further discussion of this in the aforementioned, previous blog post.)

  2. Use a generous number of tie down points.

    For example, if you are preparing to move a dirt bike or ATV, you might be able to get away with just two tie down points, but why push it? Lean toward the side of safety and secure the motorcycle with four tie down points. This way, in the event a strap could loosen or fail, there is a backup to still do the job. Or, in the case of hauling multiple smaller items or something loose like mulch, containing it within a tarp, then fastening the tarp closed, provides extra security.

  3. Take your time in securing the load.

    Don’t rush through the process, and give consideration to aerodynamics and how the wind could effect your load. Pretend your grandma or a load of puppies and kittens and baby ducks is following in the car behind you; does that make a difference in your preparations?

  4. Check the load periodically for shifting or loosening while in transit.

    Be alert to whether your cargo is still in place and intact. You’d be amazed at how many reports there are of drivers losing all or part of their load who continue, oblivious, down the road.


As I mentioned, the State of Washington has some very well done resources with extremely specific tips on how to tie down cargo. Here are some that I found, along with a few other relevant news stories.

Brochure: “Tips for Secured Loads”
State of Washington Department of Ecology
Public Service Video: “Good to Know”
Washington State Patrol
Report: “The Safety Impact of Vehicle-Related Road Debris”
Prepared for AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
News story: “Unsecured cargo causes hundreds of accidents a year in Utah”
KSL (Utah)
Next time you need to transport some equipment, appliances, tools or trash, how will you do things differently?

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