Smart Driving

Max Kvidera | May 01, 2011

Fit to Be Tied (Down)

Veteran haulers go well beyond federal regulations in securing loads

Flatbed hauler Linda Nodland recalls transporting a load of aluminum material used occasionally in place of two-by-fours in construction. She was concerned about bending the metal with too-tight straps, resulting in a loose strap soon after she departed Spokane, Wash., on a cross-state trip. “Every rest area I stopped and re-secured the load across the state,” she says.

After a break, Linda Nodland of Leavitt’s Freight Service checks all of the securements on her load to make sure they’re tight and not tampered with.

Securing a load can be fraught with challenges. Each load requires a different assortment of chains, straps, pads, blocking, edge protectors and tarps. While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes standards for inspecting and securing cargo, most truckers who handle primarily flatbed or open-deck loads say the federal regulations are the minimum for what is usually necessary to stay safe and legal and keep the load intact.

“We start with the federal regulations and go beyond that to whatever I feel comfortable with,” says Nodland, a driver with Leavitt’s Freight Service for five years and a mostly flatbed operator for more than 30 years.

Ed Harmer, a driver for Wray’s Trucking, says he routinely double-straps. “I always oversecure a load,” he says. “You can never have too much securement.”

Owner-operator Bryan Smith uses cut-up cloth straps as edge protectors to protect cargo from securement damage.

Tie down with the expectation that you may face an unforeseen driving event, such as hard braking, says William Harding, supervisor of claims and legal compliance for Fikes Truck Line. “You may have to slide all 18 wheels on your truck, so you have to tie every load down with that in mind,” he says. “When we have a failure it’s usually in the amount of securement.”

Harmer says it’s key is to be aware of how the load rests on the trailer and to know the weight and length. With a 20,000-lb. load, you’ll need at least four chains, with securement at least every 10 feet. “Height is important because if it catches the wind or is top-heavy and you hit a corner too fast, it will flip you over,” says Harmer, a veteran of more than 20 years driving flatbeds.

Nodland often transports utility poles. She’ll secure every 10 feet, plus wrap two chains around the poles. “If something does happen and I flip over, the poles will stay in a bundle,” she says.

Bryan Smith, an owner-operator leased to Art Pape Transfer, says it’s important to ensure your securements are tight. Check your chains or straps a second time because the first device may have loosened when you secured other devices. He says that’s especially true in securing vehicles with tires that have a tendency to bounce on the trailer. He says he’ll inspect a vehicle load after 5 to 10 miles on the highway to check for any movement.

Ed Harmer of Wray’s Trucking says he over-secures loads with extra chains or straps to avoid violations and give him a safe feeling.

You also want to make sure the securements are pulling in different directions — front to back and side to side — to keep the load stable. Operators also advise attaching an extra device to prevent forward movement in a hard-brake situation.

Smith draws a distinction between “direct” and “indirect” tiedowns. Direct securements attach from a hook or axle on the machinery or vehicle to the trailer, while indirect securements would hold the load generally. He says you can reduce the weight rating for cargo securement purposes by up to half by employing more direct tiedowns. You would still need a minimum number of indirect securements based on the weight.

Experience may be the best teacher in learning the proper tiedown techniques, but help is available from other sources. Nodland says she asks loading personnel or other drivers about securing a kind of load she hasn’t handled before. She says the loaders with the best suggestions usually are former truckers.

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