Smart Driving

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.

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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.

Harding says shippers often will specify how they want cargo loaded and secured. That’s especially true if the load needs special treatment to protect against damage or the weather.

Smith advises to be prepared for any loading situation. He carries several chains, straps and rubber pieces as well as plastic netting to wrap around pallets of bricks and plastic sheeting to wrap cargo inside a tarp. To protect cargo edges against damage, he carries pieces of worn-out straps.

If in doubt, wrap the load with another chain or strap, Harmer says. He also carries extra red flags in case he’s hauling a long load.


The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Cargo-related Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category (BASIC) uses violations for cargo securement to measure carrier and driver safety performance.

If a cargo securement violation is recorded in a roadside inspection report, the violation will go into the carrier’s Cargo-related BASIC in the Compliance, Safety, Accountability system. The driver’s CSA file will be noted if the driver could have prevented the violation.

A cargo violation carries a valuation in the carrier and driver Safety Measurement Systems with severity and time weighting. Severity weightings are graded on the violation’s potential for crash causation and range from 1 to 10, with an unsecure load getting a 10.

Time weighting refers to how recent the violation took place. Violations remain in the carrier’s data for 24 months and in the driver’s for 36 months. Violations that happened in the last six months carry a time weighting of 3 for carriers, between six and 12 months ago a time weighting of 2 and down to 1 for events that occurred more than a year prior.

A violation’s value is calculated by multiplying the severity weighting by the time weighting. If a driver was placed out of service, the severity weighting is increased by 2.

For carriers with five or more vehicle inspections or one that picked up a violation for cargo securement, the value for all violations is totaled and then divided by time-weighted relevant inspections. From this the carrier is assigned a BASIC Measure, which can be compared with other carriers in its peer group. A carrier’s peer group is determined by number of relevant vehicle inspections.

A similar scoring process is used for drivers. Violation values assigned to the driver are totaled and then divided by the time-weighted relevant inspections. Driver peer groups are based on the number of driver inspections and then percentile ranked. Driver BASIC Measures range from a low of 0 to 100.

At press time, pending changes to the Cargo-related BASIC, the carrier SMS results in that BASIC were still being withheld from public view. Driver measures are not available to the public, but drivers can check veracity of the inspections and violations associated with their CDLs via the FMCSA’s Pre-Employment Screening Program driver reports. Visit


Cargo and its securement is one of seven BASICs covered in the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) system.

The Cargo BASIC addresses “Failure to properly prevent shifting loads, spilled or dropped cargo, overloading, and unsafe handling of hazardous materials on a [commercial motor vehicle]. Rules are contained in FMCSA regulations 392, 393 and 397.

Key regulations are contained in 393. The part covering protection against shifting and falling cargo examines broad areas like performance criteria for securements and general securing requirements.

Section 393 also provides guidance on more specific topics such as determining the minimum number of tiedowns and if a tiedown must be adjustable. It also addresses specific securements for loads such as logs, metal coils, paper rolls and intermodal containers.

Regs for inspecting cargo securement devices

Look to FMCSA regulation 392.9 for guidance on inspecting cargo, cargo securement devices and systems. You must inspect the cargo and securement devices within 50 miles of starting your trip. The regulation also directs the truck operator to recheck the load after a change in duty status or after three hours or 150 miles of driving.

(a) General. A driver may not operate a commercial motor vehicle … unless- (1) The commercial motor vehicle’s cargo is properly distributed and adequately secured as specified in 393.100 through 393.136 of this subchapter. (2) The commercial motor vehicle’s tailgate, tailboard, doors, tarpaulins, spare tire and other equipment used in its operation, and the means of fastening the commercial motor vehicle’s cargo, are secured; and (3) The commercial motor vehicle’s cargo or any other object does not obscure the driver’s view ahead or to the right or left sides (except for drivers of self-steer dollies), interfere with the free movement of his/her arms or legs, prevent his/her free and ready access to accessories required for emergencies, or prevent the free and ready exit of any person from the commercial motor vehicle’s cab or driver’s compartment.

Code of Federal Regulations 381

(b) Drivers of trucks and truck tractors … must- (1) Assure himself/herself that the provisions of paragraph (a) of this section have been complied with before he/she drives that commercial motor vehicle; (2) Inspect the cargo and the devices used to secure the cargo within the first 50 miles after beginning a trip and cause any adjustments to be made to the cargo or load securement devices as necessary, including adding more securement devices, to ensure that cargo cannot shift on or within, or fall from the commercial motor vehicle; and (3) Reexamine the commercial motor vehicle’s cargo and its load securement devices during the course of transportation and make any necessary adjustment to the cargo or load securement devices, including adding more securement devices, to ensure that cargo cannot shift on or within, or fall from, the commercial motor vehicle. Reexamination and any necessary adjustments must be made whenever-(i) The driver makes a change of his/her duty status; or (ii) The commercial motor vehicle has been driven for 3 hours; or (iii) The commercial motor vehicle has been driven for 150 miles, whichever occurs first. (4) The rules in this paragraph (b) do not apply to the driver of a sealed commercial motor vehicle who has been ordered not to open it to inspect its cargo or to the driver of a commercial motor vehicle that has been loaded in a manner that makes inspection of its cargo impracticable.