This week, we explain how to report junk on state highways, as well as how officials enforce the law requiring truck drivers to keep their loads securely fastened.
Driving on state highways should not feel like a game of dodging roadway debris or flying rocks from trucks.
Below is how you can report debris on freeways, as well as how officials enforce the law requiring drivers to securely fasten their loads, after a couple of people contacted Traffic Lab looking for answers.
Q: Who is responsible for cleaning up debris on roadways, such as Highway 520, Interstate 5 and access ramps? Is it the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) or is it the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)? I’m never sure which agency to contact about debris.
— Marsha Donaldson, Hawthorne Hills
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A. Not SDOT.
The state department’s maintenance crews are in charge of keeping highways and access ramps clear of debris and roadkill throughout the metro area. They patrol for messes and respond to drivers’ reports by region, WSDOT spokeswoman Harmony Weinberg said.
The agency’s incident-response teams, which clean up collisions, keep an eye out for extra wreckage, too.
Each of WSDOT’s crews have different phone numbers for reporting issues by area, all of which WSDOT lists on its website. For the Seattle metro, it’s 425-739-3730.
Those numbers, however, are only for nonemergencies, or debris that does not pose immediate safety threats.
For those urgent matters, call 911.
WSDOT’s Traffic Management Centers, which function as the agency’s “nerve center” for incoming and outgoing traffic information, handle those calls.
The average number of them per month varies, Weinberg said, sometimes depending on the weather.
“If it hasn’t rained for a while, more stuff and sludge is on the roadway,” she said. “We get more calls.”
Staff at WSDOT’s Traffic Management Centers coordinate with the maintenance crews to prioritize reports of debris by their level of safety threat. Then, staff send technicians to areas for cleanup, Weinberg said.
“We really do appreciate when people call in with the things they see,” she said. “We can’t be everywhere all the time.”
To alert SDOT crews of debris on city streets, call 206-684-7623 or take a picture of it with your phone for submitting through the city’s “Find It, Fix It” mobile app.
Q: Has the law requiring trucks to secure their loads disappeared, or is it just no longer enforced? I see many large commercial trucks hauling dirt or rocks or whatever with stuff blowing off the top down onto us in cars. What’s the scoop?
— Sue Bartels, Lake Forest Park
A. Vanished from rule books? No.
State law RCW 46.61.655 says, “No vehicle shall be driven or moved on any public highway unless such vehicle is so constructed or loaded as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking, or otherwise escaping therefrom …”
But are Washington State Patrol troopers able to catch all trucks spewing rock, mud or other scraps from unsecured loads? Also no.
Their enforcement strategy is two pronged.
First, the Patrol’s Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Bureau, which inspects big trucks to make sure they follow all sorts of safety and load requirements, monitors for secure setups. Meanwhile, troopers keep an eye out for unsecure loads and stuff escaping the back of moving vehicles.
Between those two methods, troopers caught drivers with “escaped” or “unsecured” loads 5,931 times across the state last year, Sgt. James Prouty said.
Troopers handle each situation on a case-by-case basis, either giving verbal warnings or $228 fines. Most times, troopers must witness the violation to issue a ticket, Prouty said.
Offenders risk criminal charges, too, if a flying object causes property damage, injury or death. That law was passed in 2005, a year after then 24-year-old Maria Federici was blinded and nearly killed by a piece of wood that flew out of a rented trailer and struck her windshield on Interstate 405.
“Troopers use their discretion on enforcement,” he said. “Our primary goal is education,” or informing offenders of the state’s rule on securing cargo and the consequences for breaking it.
To report a vehicle losing its load, Prouty said, call 911.
“That’s a hazard, and we want to address that as soon as we can,” he said. “Unsecure loads can break free and cause injuries and fatalities, and we don’t want that to happen.”
Got a question for Traffic Lab?
If you have a question or idea for us, send it to email@example.com. We may feature it in an upcoming column.