What's Up With That? Unsecured loads are largely illegal, but …

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

At the intersection of Southeast 192nd Avenue and state Highway 14 there is an active gravel pit. Trucks leave the pit and enter Highway 14 without their loads covered. Isn't this against state law? There is frequently a state police truck enforcement vehicle at the intersection of 164th and Highway 14, yet I have never seen a truck with an uncovered load stopped.

— Bob Burke, Camas

Bob, your question really came home to this reporter while driving north on Lakeshore Avenue, past the construction site that used to be Erickson Farms but is now becoming a housing and mixed-used development called "Erickson Farms," owned by Lake Shore Development Corp. A truck was exiting the site, turning south, just when I was driving north.

There was a sharp, startling snap — and I realized my windshield had sprouted a tiny new crack.

Was the truck covered? What was its license number? No time to notice. No way to hold anyone accountable. The truck was gone and I was stuck with this new crack — except to note the exact time that the mishap occurred: 5:34 p.m. Oct. 24. Take note, Lake Shore Development Corp.!

I did track down the Washington State Patrol's website dealing with "load loss and securement." Find it at wsp.wa.gov/traveler/loadloss.htm. That page contains a link to the state law that governs this issue: RCW 46.61.655.

Are unsecured loads illegal? Yes. Well, pretty much. Except when they're not.

The RCW says any vehicle on a public road must be "constructed or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking, or otherwise escaping therefrom, except that sand may be dropped for the purpose of securing traction." No person can operate a vehicle with a load unless the load is covered and doesn't present "a hazard to other users of the highway." Failing to secure the load is a first-degree misdemeanor.

Seems straightforward. But then there's this little twist (perhaps big enough to drive a truck through?): "Covering of such loads is not required if six inches of freeboard is maintained within the bed." Freeboard isn't that song by Lynyrd Skynyrd. It refers to the "brim" of the bed — the upper rim of the holding area. If that brim is untouched by the load that's being carried — if there's six inches of untouched brim — then the hauler is free as a bird. And this bird you cannot change.

Why not? Because the WSP website, which does include information about filing complaints, also makes clear that the standard of evidence is almost impossibly high.

"You must be certain the rock or debris that broke your windshield was dropped by that particular truck. Contact the trucking company as soon as possible to file your complaint and claim," the website says.

Here's the clincher: "This is a civil matter and must be resolved between you and the trucking company. … If the object was dropped by a privately owned vehicle, it is not a law enforcement issue. Law enforcement must witness the event in its entirety to take any sort of action. It is a civil issue and will need to be handled through your insurance company."