When we think of litter, we typically think of someone purposely throwing trash on the ground or out of their car window, but that’s only part of the story. A less obvious source of litter is from people who fail to tarp or secure their load before transporting it. In fact, uncovered loads are the #1 cause of roadside litter and according to the Director of Caltrans, this is a safety, environmental, economic, and aesthetic issue that is 100% preventable.
From a safety perspective, unsecured loads can be devastating. A recent AAA study revealed that roadway debris caused over 200,000 accidents from 2011 to 2014, resulting in 39,000 injuries and 500 fatalities. All of which could have been prevented by simply taking the time to securely fasten or tarp the cargo. For tips on how to properly secure your load, visit www.dot.ca.gov.
According to the California Highway Patrol, vehicle-related debris accounts for twelve million pounds of litter on California roads each year. Besides being unsightly, litter and debris on the road can clog storm water drains; increasing the potential for flooding and can also end up in waterways and the ocean; disrupting natural habitats and potentially harming wildlife. Consequently, Caltrans spent over $67 million last year picking up litter and debris in California. To report roadside litter and debris, visit www.keepmontereycountyclean.org.
Aside from costing millions in cleanup, personal costs can add up. California vehicle codes 23114 and 23115 require any vehicles transporting any type of cargo to be totally covered or secured, so that the load or any part of the load won’t spill, fall or otherwise escape from the vehicle. Violations for litter start with a $1,000 fine and if an item falls off a vehicle and causes bodily harm, the driver faces gross misdemeanor charges, penalties of up to $5,000 and up to a year in prison. Uncovered loads can also cost you more at the disposal facility; potentially doubling the disposal fee you would normally pay. Rather than risk it, a simple solution is to keep truck beds or trailers covered tightly with a tarp, helping to prevent contents from escaping.
Be aware that an open truck bed might be used as a garbage can by a passer-by, so when you’re leaving a job site or a parking lot, always check the back of your truck for trash before you get in. No matter how the litter got there, the vehicle driver is responsible for anything coming out of his or her vehicle.
Think about it, when you are moving items with the intention they will arrive safely at your destination, it is likely you’re careful about securing your precious cargo; that level of care should be applied to every truck and trailer load to prevent accidents and vehicle-related litter and debris on our roads and highways. Whether you’re packing up to move, hauling materials to the jobsite or taking a load of trash or recycling to a disposal facility, cover your truck or trailer load securely, so nothing flies out.
Jenny Mitchell | Recycling Coordinator