One of the things we have discussed in this space since Year 1 has been the illogic of permitting loose materials to be hauled over public roadways in open vehicles.
Sand and gravel trucks have been mentioned most frequently, although readers have also complained about other things that flew off speeding trucks and subjected them to grave danger. Three items that come quickly to mind are shingles, pieces of lumber and a large piece of cardboard that blew off a trash truck at 55 mph and landed across the windshield of the car behind it, which was moving at a similar speed. How would you like to find yourself "driving blind" at that speed?
In most jurisdictions, there are toothless laws that make it illegal to haul cargo in such a manner that it can endanger others who use the roadway. The District of Columbia uses typical language when it orders that no vehicle shall use its streets unless it is "so constructed or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking or otherwise escaping therefrom."
I call these "toothless" laws because policemen are too busy trying to control crime to spend their time counting how many pebbles fall from a gravel truck. What's more, even when a "loose load" violation does result in a ticket being written for the offense, the fine is so small in most jurisdictions that truckers find it much cheaper to violate the law than to comply with it.
As a consequence, our streets and highways are littered with stones, nails and other debris that causes an enormous amount of damage. Tires that pass over such articles may become unroadworthy, or may hurl the debris backward at high speed, cracking windshields and denting body surfaces on other autos.
I have for many years been calling attention to the need for "covered load" legislation that would require those who haul loose loads to transport them in an enclosed truck or, at the very least, in an open truck covered with a tarpaulin. Inasmuch as our streets and highways must be used by passenger cars as well as trucks, this seems to me to be a reasonable requirement. One class of user should not be permitted to abuse a public facility that was paid for by everybody.
A few state legislators have responded to popular demand for covered load legislation, but most respond with greater alacrity to the political clout and campaign contributions of the truckers' lobby. The Maryland legislature has become a notorious example of what happens to public-interest legislation when it is opposed by a strong private-interest group.
If you'd like to know what happened in the 1981 session of the Maryland legislature, here's a review from Sen. Howard A. Denis (R-Mont.) who sponsors truck cover bills:
"As usual, the truck cover bill passed the Senate. Under a new policy, the House committee did not hold any hearings whatsoever before killing the bill.
"An attempt was made to pass a local (Montgomery County and Prince George's County) truck cover bill, but that failed as well.
"Then the House passed a 'no peaking' bill, which said that no part of an uncovered load of loose materials could rise above the top of the sideboards. An effort was made on the floor of the House to amend this bill to add the truck cover provisions to it, but the amendment failed.
"The Senate then made slight changes in the 'no peaking' bill and sent it back to the House. But time ran out in the session, so the saga goes on and on."
The saga has been running for so many years that I sometimes wonder why TV hasn't turned it into a series. But could TV really do justice to such irresponsible conduct on the part of state legislators?
P.S.: What good is "no peaking" legislation? Do the learned legislators really think that gravel piled to the top of the sideboards will not fly out of an uncovered truck moving at high speeds? Can they find time to cruise the Beltway with me some day and ascertain the facts at first hand? If no other time is available, perhaps they could do it on the day the trucking lobbyists invite them to gather in an expensive restaurant to enjoy steak, lobster, liquor and other goodies.
Quite by coincidence, the feast is usually held on the day before an important vote on legislation that affects truckers.