Weinstein sponsors tie-down law

More drivers should know about the dangers of unsecured loads on the state’s highways and the consequences of carrying them, according to a couple of bills introduced last week by Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-Mercer Island.

According to Weinstein, a trio of events led him to the realization that something had to be done to educate the public.

First, Weinstein was talking with an Island neighbor, Aaron Kiviat, a criminal defense lawyer who was representing two defendants found guilty earlier this month for violating the state’s new unsecured load law. The defendants, William Clark and Brian Campbell, were held responsible for the death of a 23-year-old man after neglecting to secure a metal shelf on their truck. The metal shelf flew off while they were driving on Interstate 5, killing a man and critically injuring his 5-year-old son.

Later that week, Weinstein encountered a close call with a two-by-four while driving on I-5 to Olympia from his Mercer Island home. A day or two later, he spotted several other two-by-fours laying across the highway, and said to himself that there needs to be some signage to tell people about this problem.

“People are dying or getting injured for life from this,” Weinstein said from Olympia last week. “People just don’t know the dangers and the harm they can cause by not securing their loads.”

One of the bills, Senate Bill 5808, would direct the state traffic safety commission to implement a public awareness campaign by installing signs along the roadside that remind drivers of the requirements for securing vehicle loads on public highways and the penalties for violating the law.

Similar to the “Click-it or Ticket” signs that inform drivers of the state’s seat belt law, these new signs would be put up on the state’s highways to help reduce the number of accidents caused by unsecured loads.

“At minimum, the signs must read: ‘State Law: Vehicles must secure all loads,” the bill states.

The bill also states that a only a maximum of $200,000 from the motor vehicle fund should be spent through June 2009 to put up the signs.

Another related bill, Senate Bill 5809, would amend Driver’s Education requirements to include a section about secured load safety. It would direct the superintendent of public instruction to insert information on the requirements for securing vehicle loads on public highways in instructional materials used in traffic safety education courses. The section would state the dangers of improperly securing vehicle loads and the importance of complying the rule.

“Hopefully, this will prevent more deaths and injuries,” Weinstein said. “That’s what this legislation is all about.”

In 2005, state lawmakers approved a bill and the governor enacted a law, dubbed “Maria’s Law,” that increased the penalties for failing to secure a vehicle load on a public highway. However, as Weinstein discovered, many people are not aware of the law. He hopes the signs will put an end to tragedies like this.

Maria’s Law was a direct response to an accident that occurred on I-405 in February 2004. While driving to her Renton home after working at a bar in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood on Feb. 22, the then 24-year-old Maria Federici was struck in the face by a piece of furniture that flew out of a trailer in front of her.

Authorities later determined that a 28-year-old man was towing furniture on a trailer when a piece of furniture flew off the back and crashed into Federici’s windshield. By the time police arrived, the suspect was long gone.

After months of reviewing the case, King County Prosecutors said they would not be able to file hit-and-run charges because they did not have enough evidence to warrant the charges.

The man received two $194 fines as minor infractions for failing to secure a load. Now, “Federici’s Law” makes it a misdemeanor for failing to secure a load that results in injury or death. The maximum punishment is one year in jail and a $5,000 fine. Plus, the law enables victims to qualify for assistance under the Crime Victim’s Compensation Act. Maria wasn’t so lucky and her friends and family had to find other ways to fund her recovery.

In addition to the front end and windshield of her black Jeep Liberty, Maria’s face was severely injured. She suffered brain damaged and was blinded by the accident but has recovered from other injuries.

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