Killed by Cargo

What's in your trunk today?  A giant bag of cat litter?  A set of golf clubs?  A bowling ball?  A toolbox full of socket wrenches?  A pair of cement overshoes?  The fact is, you probably don't give much thought to what's now residing in your trunk, but you should.  Why?  Because heavy objects in the trunk of your car can become lethal projectiles in a crash.

Take the case of Ludy Galiana, as reported on CBS-TV's "The Early Show."  The Cuban-born actress was riding in the backseat of a car, wearing her seatbelt as she should have been, when that car was struck head-on by a pickup truck.  The other five occupants of the car survived the horrible impact, but Galiana didn't.  Despite the fact that she was riding in the backseat, the safest portion of the vehicle, she was killed by the impact of a toolbox in the trunk that can flying through the backseat upon the sudden impact with the truck.  She was actually crushed by the force of the toolbox slamming her against the seatbelt.

Was it a freak accident?  Certainly.  Could it happen again?  Yes.  The reason, despite a laundry list of safety regulations promulgated by the U.S. government, car manufacturers are not required to test their seatbacks to make certain they are strong enough to withstand the forces caused by collisions acting on unsecured cargo in vehicle trunks.  These forces can be immense and deadly.  In fact, unsecured cargo and, for that matter, unsecured passengers within a vehicle's passenger compartment can also become lethal projectiles in a high-speed accident.

In light of these threats, vehicles built to European safety standards must pass a cargo-retention test, so cars imported from Europe are less likely to be involved in the kind of horrible accident that killed Ludy Galiana.  But according to Alan Cantor, an auto safety expert who specializes in car crash issues, there are steps you can take to make your drive safer.  Cantor, who founded and operates ARCCA, Incorporated, a technology service firm specializing in crash analysis and survival, suggest that you should never put more items in the trunk than you absolutely need to transport.   If you are going to carry heavy items in your trunk, he said, put them as close as you can to the seatback and try to distribute the load so that it is as even as possible.  Actually wedging them in place can reduce their tendency to get airborne in a crash.  If you must carry heavy items routinely, Cantor suggests that you tie them down or store them in a cargo net.

The safety expert would like to see more robust seatbacks combined with stronger structures that would help prevent the kind of tragedy that the Galiana family experienced.  Further, items within the passenger compartment should also be secured, because they can have lethal affects when the violent forces of a collision act on them.  You and your family should know that what they can't see can hurt them.

Tom Ripley, who writes on the auto industry and the human condition, has frequently transported heavy items in his car's trunk, but now he's more careful.