It may have happened to you — you’re driving down the highway and suddenly you see debris fly out from a large truck ahead of you. 

For this installment of Carolina Curious, listener Cortney Chappell wants to know why sometimes these types of vehicles don’t have a cover on the back to keep litter from falling out. 

As it turns out, this kind of thing is regulated under North Carolina state law and the language around it is pretty clear. No vehicle can be moving on a highway if it can’t prevent its contents from "falling, blowing, dropping, sifting, leaking, or otherwise escaping therefrom." 

The language is specific for some large vehicles: The load has to be secured by a tarp or some other suitable cover. Chris Knox, first sergeant with the state highway patrol, says for a commerce vehicle of a certain size, there are also Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations.

“The state law can be applied by any law enforcement officer, and they could charge failing to secure load to anyone that they've seen, that load lost onto the roadway or possibly striking vehicles or anything like that," says Knox. "The Federal Motor Carrier regulations are only enforceable in North Carolina by the North Carolina Highway Patrol.” 

According to Knox, the fine for failing to secure a load is $25 and a nearly $200 court fee. “There's a differentiation between that and, say littering, which is higher fines and penalties for someone who is intentionally throwing something out there.”

“We tend to say that in North Carolina, a majority of litter is blown, not thrown,” says Bridgette Barthe, the roadside environmental communications officer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation. 

She says the litter, whether intentional or unintentional, can take a toll on the environment and there’s obviously a safety component to consider.  

Since January, Barthe says 8.7 million pounds of litter have been picked up from North Carolina roadsides. Travelers needing to report an unsecured load can call the state highway patrol at *47.  

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