Objects falling from trucks can lead to criminal counts

You’re westbound in the right lane of Summerlin Parkway on a recent afternoon. Traffic is steady. Then, unexpectedly, an onslaught of leaves flies directly in front of you. They’re landing all over your car, and in a split second they have covered your entire windshield.

Barely, you are able to recognize that the leaves are coming from the truck in front of you. Your instinct is to slow down and turn on your windshield wipers, but that provides little relief. You just cannot see the road very well. In fact, you can’t see much of anything. So your second instinct is to pull onto the shoulder and hope you don’t cause an accident.

Yes, this perilous situation confronted me. And yes, it was a scary moment.

The leaves fell away as I came to a stop on the shoulder, and I was able to see that the truck, which belonged to a landscaper, was now some distance up the road. Leaves were still flying from under the tarp atop the truck. That’s because the canvas covering was not very secure in holding them down.

My impression was that the driver didn’t have a clue relating to the havoc he was creating. By the same token, how many times have you seen a similar situation of garden refuse, old newspapers, garbage and other forms of waste flying off of trucks that did not have secure covering?

Once home, I punched into my computer and learned there’s a state law, modeled after federal regulations, that requires truckers to securely fasten loads.

According to Nevada Statute 484.771, “No vehicle shall be driven or moved on any highway unless such vehicle is so constructed or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping …”

The law goes on to say, “No person shall operate on any highway any vehicle with any load unless the load and any covering thereon is securely fastened so as to prevent the covering or load from becoming loose, detached or in any manner a hazard to other users of the highway.”

Trooper Jason Buratczuk, spokesman for the southern command of the Nevada Highway Patrol, which includes responsibility for all of Clark County, put me in contact with Sgt. Jeremy George, who heads the Highway Patrol’s Commercial Enforcement Unit.

“It’s amazing what we find coming off of trucks, and it’s not just leaves. You’ll see ladders, rocks, mattresses and even furniture items on the highways,” he said, adding that the problem is not only unsecured tarping.

George talked about pools of liquids such as oil and gasoline often found on highways.

“Sometimes people driving those vehicles just don’t use common sense,” he said.

George has 14 troopers under his command who are on the lookout for vehicles that violate the tarping law. “We’ll warn the driver to either secure their load to avoid flying debris or face misdemeanor charges,” he said. A misdemeanor is a relatively minor offense.

When told about the gust of leaves that blinded my vision, George said, “that kind of situation could make it a felony. If flying debris from a vehicle leads to an accident, it would become a serious criminal act.” A felony is an indictable offense.

So what can a driver do if confronted with flying waste from another vehicle?

“Call the Nevada Highway Patrol,” George suggested. “If you can get the license number, report it. If not, describe the vehicle as best you can to the dispatcher.”

Herb Jaffe was an op-ed columnist and investigative reporter for most of his 39 years at the Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey. His most recent novel, “Double Play,” is available. Contact him at hjaffe@cox.net.

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