Improperly Loaded Cargo and Trucking Accidents

By Matt Lalande in Trucking Accidents on March 21, 2022

Improperly Loaded Cargo and Trucking Accidents

Trucking cargo can weigh tens of thousands of pounds, depending on the size of the tractor trailer or cargo hold. Improperly loaded cargo can cause an imbalance with the truck’s centre of gravity – and when this happens – it can cause a truck to tip, jack-knife. When this happens to an 80,000 truck – the results for the cars and motorcycles around it could be completely disastrous.

In 2021, there were a record 324,200 truck drivers in Canada, up from 300,000 the year before. The number of truckers and their trucks has increased steadily over the last twenty years, and with it, the number of trucking accidents have also increased.

There are many ways that trucking accidents occur – one of which is when there is too much cargo on board, or cargo on board that is not properly fasted or improperly loaded. Overloading a truck – or not properly fastening cargo in a tractor trailer or in a truck bed can cause a variety of different crash scenarios, including trailer jack-knifes, tire blowouts, roll-overs, or falling or spilling cargo.

Weighing in on cars and trucks

A quick comparison between trucks and passenger cars and it’s clear that there are a number of significant differences, the most glaring one being the size and weight of the vehicle. With most passenger cars weighing roughly 3,000 pounds and half-ton trucks up to three times that weight at 9,000 pounds, to say that there’s a difference in weight is beyond stating the obvious. 

What’s perhaps more important than the weight is where the weight rests in the vehicle. With few exceptions, most passenger cars feature the same technical design, with the engine in the front, passengers in the middle, and cargo in the trunk.  Trucks use a similar design – engine first, driver in the cabin, and cargo in the trailer – but carry significantly more cargo than passenger cars, and therefore much more weight. In many cases, a truck might be transporting cargo weighing more than a passenger car itself. 

Weight problems

Heavy cargo which isn’t properly secured inside a tractor trailer can cause a trailer to shift to the sliding weight. As the unsecured weight inside shifts, its momentum causes the truck to sway with it; even if this swaying begins ever so slightly, it doesn’t take much in a truck traveling at high speeds to cause a driver to lose control of his vehicle as the trailer begins to get away from him. Even when employing modern advancements in suspension systems and ensuring that the truck’s wheels are properly inflated and balanced, shifting weight in an improperly loaded truck is a dangerous vehicle to be driving beside on the highway. 

Weight shifting isn’t the only issue when trucks are improperly loaded. Even if the cargo is strapped incorrectly, if the truck is loaded past its weight capacity, or if the cargo is not balanced throughout the trailer, there is still the potential for danger. The reason that trucks have weight capacities is to ensure that they remain at a weight that makes it possible for drivers to drive, steer and stop their trucks safely, and overloading a truck means that the truck is pulling more than it can safely handle. An excess of weight in the trailer intensifies the swaying and shifting of a truck travelling on the highway, and also means that the truck driver needs to maintain more space in order to stop safely. Trucks that are overloaded also use up more of their brake line than usual and wear out their tire treads faster than normal, and worn-out treads are another common cause of truck-related accidents. 

Loading too much weight on either side of the trailer without putting thought into balancing it can also be dangerous as well. Trailers with too much cargo packed on the left or the right side of the trailer will mean that the balance of the entire vehicle will be slightly weighted to either the left or the right; not only does this mean that the truck driver will have to accommodate for this by pulling slightly in the opposite direction for the entire ride – unnecessarily stressing out the truck’s axle – but it also means that turns in either direction run the risk of the truck rolling over and crushing any cars that happen to be driving in the lanes beside it. 

Overloading the front of the trailer will cause the front axle to rise out of its optimal position, and reduce the driver’s ability to control the vehicle safely. On the other hand, too much weight at the back of the trailer may result in fishtailing, or the trailer ‘swinging’ back and forth, as the extra weight adds momentum. In this situation, if the truck is not slowed down or brought under control by the driver, it’s possible for the truck to jackknife, a dangerous scenario where the trailer swings out from behind the cabin, usually stopping at a 90-degree angle when it crashes into the cabin of the truck itself. For passenger cars that are happy to be travelling behind a truck that is jackknifing, it is almost impossible to avoid and is a very dangerous situation to be caught up in. If the weight of the cargo is heavier near the top of the trailer than at the bottom, it can raise the center of the gravity of the entire trailer, which can lead to a trailer tipping over, particularly if the top-weighted cargo is not secured, in addition to being unbalanced. 

Flight risk

In addition to being balanced inside the trailer, a truck’s cargo also needs to be secured from flying outside of the container or off a trailer, and the reason is simple: loose cargo is dangerous, no matter how light it might seem. (In fact, Ontario even has a bill against driving on the highway if there is snow on the root of the vehicle if it’s deemed that there is a risk of the snow flying off and posing a threat to the safety of the other cars on the road). 

By law, trailer doors need to be closed and reefers and straps tightened over their loads; but unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen that way. Whether it’s because of laziness, fatigue from their long hours on the road, or just ignorance, truck drivers continue to drive on the roads with improperly loaded goods, which end up being the reason that many accidents happen on the highways. 

Trucking Cargo can Cause Major Accidents

Improperly loaded cargo or having too much cargo on board can cause a variety of catastrophic accidents. In Canada, truckers must comply with specific weight limits and follow various guidelines for loading and securing cargo. The problem is when rules are ignored and there is too much cargo being carried, unbalanced loads, improper securement of cargo – all of which can cause shifts in the load that can be hazardous and no doubt increase the chances of a serious accident.

Rollover accidents – are common with cargo that is improperly secured or when there is too much cargo (an overload) in the truck’s trailer. Too much cargo tends to make the trailer top-heavy, and in turn can cause the trailer roll-over over during high-speed turns. If a car is in the pathway of the truck that rolls over, the motorist operating that vehicle can be severely injured or killed.

Jackknife accidents – improperly loaded cargo or unsecured cargo can lead the cargo to “shift” in the trailer and in turn, affect the truck’s overall stability or handling. Normally, the heavier the load, the less chance there is of a trailer jackknifing. However, when the load is improperly loaded, or the cargo is not secured, the trailer can jackknife comparatively easy – depending on the distribution of contents inside the trailer.

Falling cargo – if cargo is left unsecured, there is a chance that it can fall onto other vehicles, or on the roadway and obstruct traffic. Semi-trucks often carry tens of thousands of pounds of cargo and if any of it falls on the road, or on other vehicles, major damage can occur either directly if the vehicle collides with it or indirectly of a vehicle swerves to avoid it, and crashes into another vehicle as a result.

Trucking Accident FAQ

If I see a truck that I suspect might not be loaded properly, should I stop it?

When you’re on the road, keep yourself and whoever is in your vehicle safe. Remain at a safe distance away from the truck and let law enforcement take care of assessing whether the truck is improperly loaded. 

Do passenger drivers also have to abide by laws regarding loading cargo on cars?

Yes; particularly in situations where you will be transporting something outside of your vehicle – such as on the roof of your car or in the back of a pick-up truck – it’s important to understand how to properly load your vehicle. You should check the Ministry of Transportation guidelines for your province to figure out what is allowed.

If my vehicle has been damaged or I have been injured by improperly loaded cargo from the truck in front of me on the highway, should I attempt to pursue the truck to exchange insurance information?

Even if you are the victim of car damage or personal injury due to an improperly loaded truck, you should never attempt to speed after a truck or try and stop it personally. Overtaking a truck in normal circumstances is already a very dangerous thing to do, because of the large blindspots a truck has on all four sides.  The best (and safest) course of action that you can take is to call the police and report the incident. If you’re able to pull your vehicle over, do so at your earliest opportunity, to stop the car and check the vehicle and yourself for damage and injuries. 

What can happen if a truck is improperly loaded?

an improperly loaded truck can cause a variety of different crash scenarios, including trailer jack-knifes, tire blowouts, roll-overs, or falling or spilling cargo.

Have you or a loved one suffered serious injuries in a trucking accident?

If you or a loved one has been injured in a trucking accident caused by improperly loaded cargo, you may have a case against the responsible parties, which can include the driver, the owner of the truck, and the company that the truck belongs to.

Across Canada, there are strict laws that mandate trucks be inspected on a regular basis, and that drivers remain vigilant to ensure that their trucks (and the cargo in them) are road-worthy, and will not pose a threat to other drivers. 

No matter if it’s a case of the truck tipping over and causing you to total your car, or something flying off the truck, making you spin out off the road, the responsibility lies with the truck driver to ensure that he has done everything in his power to properly secure the cargo on his truck. Don’t brush it off as simply an unfortunate accident: improperly loaded trucks that result in accidents are cases of ignorance, not mistake. 

Remember, when trucking companies in Ontario operate negligently and hurt someone they should be held accountable for their actions. Our trucking accident lawyers can help guide you and your family through this difficult time period and ensure that you being compensated for your losses. Call us no matter where you are in Ontario at 1-844-LALANDE (525-2633) or local in the Hamilton / Niagara / Burlington areas at 905-333-8888. Alternatively you can email through our website and we will get right back to you.

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