Highway Safety: Federal and State Efforts Related to Accidents That Involve Non-Commercial Vehicles Carrying Unsecured Loads Page: 2 of 38
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G A O HIGHWAY SAFETY
Accountability * Integrity * Reliability
H 1 *JO. Federal and State Efforts Related to Accidents That
ghi ghts Involve Non-Commercial Vehicles Carrying
Highlights of GAO-13-24, a report to
Why GAO Did This Study
Vehicles carrying objects that are not
properly secured pose a safety risk on
our nation's roadways. Debris that falls
from a vehicle can collide with other
vehicles or pedestrians, causing
serious injuries or fatalities. According
to data collected by NHTSA, there
were about 440 fatalities caused by
roadway debris in 2010. However, the
exact number of incidents resulting
from vehicles carrying unsecured loads
Congress, through the Conference
Report for the Consolidated and
Further Continuing Appropriations Act,
(2012), directed NHTSA to improve its
data on unsecured-load incidents and
directed GAO to report on state laws
and related exemptions, and punitive
measures regarding unsecured loads
on non-commercial vehicles, such as
cars and light trucks used for non-
commercial purposes. This report
examines NHTSA's data collection
efforts as well as states' laws related to
unsecured loads. GAO reviewed
NHTSA documents and interviewed
officials from NHTSA, as well as
representatives of highway safety
associations and state police agencies.
GAO also conducted a survey of all 50
states and the District of Columbia,
with a response rate of 100 percent,
and researched the laws, punitive
measures, and education efforts in
GAO provided a draft of this report to
NHTSA for review and comment.
NHTSA provided technical comments
that were incorporated, as appropriate.
View GAO-13-24. For more information,
contact Susan Fleming at (202) 512-2834 or
What GAO Found
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) collects limited
information on crashes involving vehicles carrying unsecured loads but plans to
make changes to collect better information. Currently, NHTSA collects some data
in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the National Automotive Sampling
System General Estimates System. However, the systems do not currently have
a data category to distinguish between debris resulting from natural sources
(such as a tree branch) and debris resulting from human error (such as an
unsecured load). As a result, NHTSA cannot currently identify how many crashes
involve vehicles carrying unsecured loads. NHTSA intends to make changes to
both its systems to better identify crashes involving unsecured loads. These
changes will go into effect in 2013. However, NHTSA may still face challenges
collecting this data because 1) law enforcement officials face difficulties in
determining whether a crash involved an unsecured load and 2) states do not
collect uniform data on unsecured loads in their police crash reports. NHTSA
officials stated that they would likely recommend changes to the Model Minimum
Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC)-voluntary guidelines intended to create
uniform data in police crash reports; however, the revised guidelines will not be
released until 2017 because of MMUCC's 5-year cycle of updates. NHTSA
officials acknowledged that even with the changes in its data systems, data
improvements will take time to implement and data on unsecured-load crashes
will likely continue to be imprecise.
Example of an Unsecured Load on a Non-Commercial Vehicle
II I... : - 5
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have statutes regarding unsecured
loads that pertain to non-commercial and commercial vehicles. A majority of
states and the District of Columbia reported exempting vehicles from unsecured
load statutes for primarily commercial activities such as roadway maintenance or
agriculture activities, while 9 states have statutes that apply to all vehicles. All 50
states and the District of Columbia reported having fines or penalties for violating
unsecured load statutes ranging from $10 to $5,000; fifteen states add the
possibility of imprisonment. Ten states also reported having a safety or education
program related to unsecured loads.
United States Government Accountability Office
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United States. Government Accountability Office. Highway Safety: Federal and State Efforts Related to Accidents That Involve Non-Commercial Vehicles Carrying Unsecured Loads, report, November 15, 2012; Washington D.C.. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc300082/m1/2/: accessed October 18, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.