Getting Tied Down

Features - Scrap Industry News

Officials and recyclers continue to wrangle over cargo securement regulations.

March 23, 2006

Geraldine Kizielewicz owes her life to an unknown driver who cut in front of her. It was October 5, 1992, and Kizielewicz, an assistant principal at a Buffalo, N.Y., elementary school, was driving to work. As she was about to merge onto the northbound lanes of the Niagara Thruway, a car darted in front of her, forcing Kizielewicz to hit her brakes. Moments later she saw what appeared to be five shiny missiles flying toward her from the southbound lanes. Before Kizielewicz could react, the missiles crashed into three cars directly in front of her.

The objects were five coils of rolled steel each weighing 20,000 pounds. The southbound driver of the tandem unit carrying the coils had swerved to avoid hitting a stalled car. The driver’s sudden move caused his rear trailer to swerve and tip over, striking the concrete median. With their restraining chains now severed, the coils soared into the northbound lane. Four people in the three cars died. Had she not been cut-off, Kizielewicz’s car would probably have been one of those crushed by a coil.

From March 1990 to July 1993 nine accidents in Western New York were attributed to inadequate cargo restraint. Three of these incidents claimed the lives of six individuals. During the same time, a family of four returning to New York died when an aluminum coil fell from a truck, crushing their car. These incidents prompted New York Congressman Jack Quinn to request a congressional hearing on the securement of loads.

On July 27, 1993, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Works and Transportation, Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight met to receive testimony on the adequacy of federal regulations that relate to cargo securement. At the conclusion of the hearing , Quinn said, "What we are hearing over and over again, either from law enforcement, the truck industry or whoever it happens to be, is that there is some confusion out there." He concluded by saying that if changes were to be made, those agencies involved should do so "with the best information possible, with everybody at the table talking about it so that we reduce as much of this confusion as possible."

The 1999 North American Cargo Securement Standard Model Regulation, which was published in May of that year, put forth general cargo securement requirements based on the results of a research study on the forces that could potentially act on cargo carried on a flatbed-like vehicle. The model regulation required that the total, or aggregate, of the working load limit (WLL) of all tie-downs must not be less than half the weight of the cargo it secures.

Prior to 1993, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations required the aggregate breaking strength of all tie-downs to equal 1.5 times the weight of the load. Several years later, the FMCSA changed its regulations to require aggregate WLL of these devices be not less than half the weight of the cargo, as did the model regulation.

However, the FMCSA is currently involved in a rulemaking that would reverse its adoption of the model regulations, to the disappointment of the Canadian Council of Motor Transportation Administrators (CCMTA). According to the CCMTA, the directions proposed by FMCSA "ran counter to critical and fundamental points of consensus which had been built over the previous 10 years through the research and standard development phases."

MODEL CONFUSION. The model regulation published in 1999 proposed a change to how the aggregate WLL of tie-downs would be determined. FMCSA regulations simply required adding up the WLL of each of the tie-downs, while the model rule made a distinction between direct and indirect tie-downs.

A direct tie-down was defined as providing direct resistance to the potential shift of an article. An example of a direct tie-down is when the tie-down is connected directly between the vehicle and the article or directly between the vehicle and then to, around or through the article and back to the vehicle. For maximum effectiveness, a direct tie-down must make an angle no more than 45 degrees and not less than 30 degrees between cargo and trailer. This was determined in a study of tie-downs used to secure large metal coils.

The model regulation defined an indirect tie-down as increasing the pressure of an article on the deck of the vehicle. An example is a tie-down that connects to both sides of the vehicle and runs over the cargo.

Brake Concerns

When contemplating improved safety, the Federal Highway Administration also has done research on braking issues with tractor trailers. In mentioning tie downs, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Agency referred to a 1992 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regarding Antilock Braking Systems.  In breaking tests the study reported that 85% of brakings resulted in deceleration forces of 0.19g or less while 14.7% of brakings resulted in deceleration forces from 0.19 to 0.40g.  Only 0.11% of deceleration forces where above 0.40g.  Yet this study is but a piece in a large picture.


FMCSA regulates motor vehicles that are in service while NHTSA standards apply only to new motor vehicles.  NHTSA standards that apply to braking are Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards 121 (FMVSS 121) for Air Brakes and FMVSS 105 for Hydraulic Brakes.  In February 1971 NHTSA amended both to require heavy trucks traveling 60 mph come to a complete stop within 245 feet.  This would create a forward deceleration of approximately 0.46g.  A truck manufacturer (PACCAR) joined by the American Trucking Association (ATA) and the Truck Equipment and Body Distributors Association sued the agency.  The suit challenged that the stopping distance in FMVSS 121 could not be achieved without antilock brakes which were not required in commercial motor vehicles.  The United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit agreed and invalidated the stopping distance in FMVSS 121 (PACCAR v. NHTSA, 573 F.2d 632, (9th Cir. 1978) Cert. denied, 439 U.S. 862 (1978) ).


In 1988 Congress passed the Truck and Bus Regulatory Reform Act.  Section 9107 directed the Secretary of Transportation to investigate “the need to adopt methods for improving braking performance standards for commercial motor vehicles” including an examination of antilock brake systems.  In response the Agency provided Congress with an April, 1991 report concerning heavy vehicle brake systems.  The report reviewed crash data and concluded that stopping distances for heavy vehicles could be improved by anti-lock brake systems.  In December of 1991 Congress passed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act.  Section 4012 directed the Secretary to initiate a rulemaking concerning methods to improve braking performance of new commercial motor vehicles, including antilock braking systems.


In March, 1995 the NHTSA issued a final rule amending FMVSS 105 to require new medium and heavy vehicles be equipped with an antilock brake system.  Truck Tractors would be first (1997) followed by single-unit vehicles and trailers (1998).  At the same time it issued a final rule amending FMVSS 121 with new required stopping distances.  From 60 mph a loaded single-unit or straight trucks must stop within 310 which creates a forward deceleration of 0.39g.  A loaded tractor-trailer must stop within 355 which equates to a deceleration force of 0.34g.


In 1997 NHTSA published a study which examined the stopping performance of trailer antilock brake systems (DOT HS 808 568).  The study found that the best braking performance for a loaded vehicle was when antilock brakes where on both the tractor and the trailer.  The deceleration forces created from braking from 60 mph ranged from 0.40-0.45g.  A February 2003 report evaluated the performance of a prototype electronically controlled braking system.  The lowest stopping distance from 60 mph was 233 feet which equates to deceleration forces of 0.52g.  The plan for the testing was developed by a joint government and industry working group which included the American Trucking Association (ATA) the Truck Manufacturers Association (TMA) and the FMCSA.


Additional reports released in 2003 compared different tractor-trailer brake configurations with different load weights.  At 50,500 pounds the highest deceleration force achieved was 0.61g (Study # RAI-MC-04) while at 46,000 and 56,500 the highest force was 0.60g (Study # RAI-FM-20 & 21).  In 2004 NHTSA published a study (DOT HS 809 700) comparing two different tractors and four different braking systems and a gross vehicle weight of 54,500 pounds.  Air disc brakes on the steer and drive axles produced the best stopping distance of 218 feet and the best mean stopping distance of 222 feet.  This equates to deceleration forces of 0.55g and 0.54g respectively.  The worst stopping distance was from standard S-cam brake drums.  The single best stopping distance was 307 feet and the mean was 317 feet.  This equates to deceleration forces of 0.39 and 0.38 respectively.


On December 15, 2005 the NHTSA issued a NPRM for improving the stopping distance of truck tractors.  Based on current safety trends and brake system technologies the NHTSA is proposing to reduce required stopping distances by 20 to 30 percent.  This could mean a new minimum stopping distance for loaded tractor trailers of 249 to 284 feet.  This would equate to minimum deceleration forces of 0.42 to 0.48g.  The Agency believes that an estimated 34% of truck tractors currently meet the 284 foot stopping distance while 3% meet the 249 foot requirement.


Yet brake manufacturers are not concerned.  According to Alan Korn, chief engineer for Meritor Wabco (Fleet Owner Magazine, Jan, 2006) “minor tweaks to current brake technology will enable a driver to stop a fully-loaded tractor-trailer well within the 30% shorter distance”.  A company division, Arvin Meritor, has tested a drum brake system with a stopping distance that would generate 0.51g deceleration.  It has also tested a tractor-trailer equipped with electronically controlled air disk brakes which would stop in just 189 feet producing 0.63g deceleration. 


It is odd given its access to its sister agency, the NHTSA, and to the data noted above that the FMCSA would adopt a significant reduction in the deceleration forces that the WLL of securement devices should withstand.  Almost as odd as its New Years Eve 2003 memorandum that reversed 10 years of research and work.  Not so much odd as puzzling is the poor response to the Agency’s proposed change.  After the NPRM was published in December 2000 the Agency received over 100 responses during the 3 month comment period.  Yet during the two month comment period for the recent NPRM only 31responses were received.  The majority of comments either did not address the issue or suggested how the reference to breaking strength and WLL be placed separately in the standard to avoid confusion.  The CCMTA was one of three that submitted comments opposing the reduction of forces for the WLL.  Its concern is that substituting the lower forces could allow repeated stress on a securement system beyond the WLL.  It reasons that “a driver who has experienced an emergency maneuver, but has avoided a crash, would continue his trip using the same securement equipment devices.  In our view this would result in undesirable situations where cargo securement equipment and devices remain in continued usage after having been exposed (potentially several times) to forces beyond their Working Load Limit.”  The CCMTA has indicated it has no intention of adopting the lower performance standards into Canada’s National Safety Code.  Adoption of these lower standards by the FMCSA would then “mark a fundamental point of diversion in our respective regulations.”  

To determine the aggregate working load limit, the model regulation required using one-half the WLL for each direct tie-down that connects directly from the vehicle to the cargo. Yet the full WLL can be used for both a direct tie-down that passes through or around the cargo and for an indirect tie-down. According to the research, the tension that can be applied while tightening the latter two tie-down configurations provides greater restraint than a tie-down that directly connects the cargo to the vehicle. These requirements were intended to provide a more accurate means for determining if the tie-downs securing the cargo would withstand the potential deceleration and acceleration forces.

In December 2000, the FMCSA issued a rulemaking requesting public comment on its proposal to adopt most of the provisions in the model regulation. After reviewing more than 100 comments, in September of 2002 the FMCSA issued the final rule, which retained the proposed requirement that a cargo securerment system must be capable of withstanding the acceleration/deceleration forces proposed in the model regulation.

According to the comments, it appeared that the FMCSA was stating that the WLL of a tie-down system was the WLL of the tie-down or its associated attachment point, whichever is less. Therefore, the regulation should say just that to avoid the confusing language of the final rule, according to the comments.

The CCMTA expressed concern that the final rule’s procedure for determining the securement system’s aggregate WLL may not accurately determine if the cargo is properly secured to resist the accepted acceleration and deceleration forces. The CCMTA offered to work with FMCSA to achieve a mutually acceptable WLL formula.

In response, on Dec. 31, 2003, the day before the final rule was to go into effect, the FMCSA issued a memorandum outlining interim enforcement policies to deal with ambiguities in the final regulation. The policies would remain in effect until FMCSA could deal with the issues in a new rulemaking process. The agency’s interpretation for determining aggregate WLL of tie-downs was similar to that provided in the proposed rule, yet without a distinction between a direct and an indirect tie-down. Given the similarity of wording, this interpretation did not come as a suprise.

To many, the agency’s policy regarding securement against the forces of acceleration and deceleration was a surprise.

The memo indicated that the wording of the final rule was ambiguous. The agency had not meant to imply that the WLL of any part of a securement system should withstand forward forces of 0.8 g and lateral and rear forces of 0.5 g. Instead, it had meant to imply that these forces not exceed the breaking strength of securement devices.

This clarification was necessary because the agency does not believe there is sufficient crash data to justify that a WLL should not exceed these forces.

Yet this position is contrary to the one the agency defended in the preamble to the final rule. There the agency stated, "While it is true that not every commercial motor vehicle on the road today is capable of achieving such levels of performance, there is no practical way to ensure that all loads are adequately secured unless the rule includes performance criteria that reflects the latest developments in vehicle design."

The American Trucking Association (ATA) defended this position. In its comments on the proposed rule, the ATA wrote, "For many years a 0.6 g deceleration was the best that could be attained. However, today’s truck tires and brakes are more capable than ever before. In discussions with tire, brake and vehicle manufacturers, there was agreement that the g forces defined in the proposal are now achievable. While these forces will rarely reach the 0.8 g forward, 0.5 g rearward and 0.5 g lateral values, they can be reached and so should be expected under certain non-crash conditions. Therefore, we accept the new values," the ATA stated.

MORE CLARIFICATION. The agency further clarified that the WLL of securement devices must withstand forward forces of 0.4 g, rearward forces of 0.5 g and lateral forces of 0.25 g. These, the agency explained, are the forces it believes a cargo securement system will encounter under normal operating conditions.

Because the definition of WLL is "the maximum load that may be applied to a component of a cargo securement system during normal service" it was never the agency’s intent that the WLL withstand the higher forces of 0.8 g forward and 0.5 g laterally and rearward.

On June 8, 2005, the FMCSA published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Part of the intent of the NPRM is to amend the cargo securement rules to state that the WLL of a securement system must withstand the lower forces of 0.4 g forward, 0.5 g rearward and 0.25 g laterally. The forces of 0.8 g forward and 0.5 g laterally and rearward would become the maximum forces that a securement device should withstand without exceeding the device’s breaking strength.

Why is FMCSA proposing to revise cargo securement regulations to adopt the lower forces as the WLL of a securement system? Each of these forces is less than the 0.6 g forces the agency adopted almost a decade earlier.

The FMCSA argues that these are the maximum forces a securement system will experience under normal operating conditions. Yet, is this consistent with other regulations? FMCSA regulation 49 CFR 393.52 requires that property-carrying vehicles produce a minimum braking force of 14 ft./s2, or 0.435 g. This is measured while the vehicle decelerates from a speed of 20 miles per hour. Therefore, the minimum braking force, at a slow speed, required by the FMCSA’s brake performance standard is equivalent to the normal maximum forces under the agency’s proposed new cargo securement standard.

In its 2005 proposal for a new rule, the FMCSA stated that, "given the limited amount cargo securement-related crash data available," the lower forces for the WLL for securement systems was sufficient. Yet in its 2000 Notice of Proposed Rule Making for cargo securement, the FMCSA stated, "it is not always necessary to have accident data to justify initiating a rulemaking to improve the technical adequacy of safety regulations."

The FMCSA clarified that its cargo securement regulations were not intended to restrain cargo during a crash. Its objectives were to develop regulations "directed at collision avoidance" such as "ensuring the prevention of cargo movement which could contribute to the accident." The standards "would ensure all loads are properly secured, regardless of the stopping capability or maneuverability."

Thirty responses were submitted to FMCSA’s 2005 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Seven comments specifically supported the reduction of the performance requirements.

The CCMTA is firm in its support of the higher forces for the WLL for securement systems. Its concern is that substituting lower forces could allow repeated stress on a securement system beyond WLL. It reasons that "a driver who experienced an emergency maneuver, but avoided a crash, would continue his trip using the same securement equipment devices. In our view this would result in undesirable situations where cargo securement equipment and devices remain in continued usage after having been exposed (potentially several times) to forces beyond their Working Load Limit."

The CCMTA indicated it has no intention of adopting the lower performance standards into Canada’s National Safety Code. Adoption of these standards by the FMCSA would "mark a fundamental point of diversion in our respective regulations."

In addition to Canada, the higher forces have been adopted by Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain.

In January 2004 the European Commission issued a draft of its "Best Practice Guidelines on Cargo Securing." If adopted, the 25 member countries of the European Union would also adopt the higher forces as the performance standard for cargo securement.

The FMCSA’s comment period for the proposed new standard ended in August 2005. Given the 18 months between the previous proposed and final rule, a decision on the current proposal is not expected soon.

The author owns HSR (Health, Safety and Risk) Consulting and advises on safety and risk management issues. He can be contacted at or at (301) 318-6974.