We've all seen those accidents where a truck has dumped its payload on the road. There could be 2x4s strewn across the highway, a random mattress blocking a lane, or, as one editor here observed one day, doorknobs flying everywhere from the back of a locksmith's truck. These accidents, and others like them, were likely caused by the driver not properly securing the truck's payload.
But what about when everything was done right, and things still went wrong? There are cases where the payload was strapped in place, and the driver had checked his specific truck's payload capacity (GVW minus actual curb weight) and knew that he didn't overload his truck, yet with one emergency stop, the payload shifted. We know from experience that, when dealing with an emergency stop, payload will shift, which can cause everything from bent or broken tie-down hooks to bent truck beds, and in really bad instances, something can break the rear window and hit someone sitting in the cab. In a van, if payload shifts and there's no barrier between the cargo area and the driver, the driver can get hurt.
We've witnessed and dealt with payload problems every year when doing performance testing. We've loaded and secured payload ourselves; had payload and towing experts at manufacturer proving grounds load the ballast boxes or pallets they test with; tried a variety of materials in the boxes and on the pallets; and used multiple thick nylon straps to secure the payload at the tie-down hooks. Every time we test, the payload shifts when the test team runs the trucks through the braking test. We always determine actual payload capacity, and we never carry 100 percent of that amount (we often use 75 percent), and the load still shifts -- even with tightly cinched heavy-duty nylon straps holding down ballast boxes. And this in an ideal controlled environment, where the ballast is evenly shaped and stacked easily, everything is properly secured, and there is no cross traffic.
In some cases, we saw the tie-down hooks weren't strong enough to handle the force involved when the truck came to a full stop, and the hooks often showed damage after one braking test. This never happened when we did driving evaluation loops -- it was only a problem when stopping hard from speed.
Before you write off the braking test as frivolous or unnecessary, keep this in mind: Testing a vehicle for braking isn't just about which vehicle has better numbers when stopping. It's also an indicator of how a vehicle behaves during an emergency maneuver. To use this as a parallel for real-world driving, most of the time, when you have a payload in the bed, there's no problem. You can stack crates and gear in there, go from point A to point B, and everything's fine for the drive. But other times, such as when the idiot in front of you slams on the brakes because he missed a turn and you have to come to an immediate stop to avoid hitting his vehicle, or when an accident occurs right in front of you on the interstate. You should be able to take for granted that, if you've correctly loaded the right amount of gear in the bed, it'll stay where it you secured it.
So what is the solution? On the upside, we have observed that the location of the hooks in the bed -- mounted to the bedsides versus the bed floor, for example -- makes a big difference, so that can help from the manufacturers' point of view. But that's just one aspect of the problem. We'd like to see stronger tie-down hooks become standard equipment on all trucks.
There should be some sort of third-party testing. Look at the new standardized towing tests -- the SAE's J2807 procedure. There are specific requirements for braking, for a truck that's towing a trailer. J2807 states that a vehicle and trailer have to stop within a certain distance from a specific speed. This is to make sure the brakes can handle stopping not the just the truck, but the truck and trailer.
Perhaps it's time for standardized payload testing, too: If a manufacturer claims that a truck can carry a certain amount of payload, the pickup should be able to come to a complete emergency stop from a specific speed. In such a case, this would be to make sure the bed and tie-down hooks could handle properly secured payload during a stop. With safety on the line, it's time to ensure that a truck can actually handle the amount of payload the manufacturer claims it can.
This is an issue we intend to look into further. We plan on researching manufacturer suggestions and solutions, and seeing what the aftermarket has to offer.