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Is it illegal in Ontario to drive your truck with the tailgate down? What if the bed is empty? What if whatever you have in the bed is tied down? – Vicki

Driving with a truck with the tailgate down probably isn’t illegal, but it could be a real drag.

In Ontario, there’s no law specifically against driving with your tailgate down, trunk open or SUV hatch up, as long as you’ve properly secured any loads. “The Highway Traffic Act (HTA) doesn’t specifically prohibit a particular position of a tailgate or trunk/hatch,” said Michael Fenn, senior issues advisor with the Ministry of Transportation (MTO), in an e-mail. “However, section 84 specifies that the vehicle must be in a safe condition – stability and visibility must not be compromised.”

If a cop decides that your vehicle is unsafe, you could face fines up to $5,000.

Any load that you’re carrying in your truck bed, open trunk, open SUV hatch, trailer or on the roof have to be “loaded, bound, secured, contained or covered so that no portion of the load may become dislodged or fall, leak, spill or blow from the vehicle.”

Fines for unsecured loads on passenger vehicles are $100­ to $200, Fenn says.

“Your cargo needs to be secured, and you need to be able to have a view to the back with at least one mirror,” said Sgt. Kerry Schmidt, with Ontario Provincial Police highway safety division, in an e-mail. Schmidt said he wasn’t aware of cases where an open tailgate caused a crash, but crashes have definitely been caused by objects flying off vehicles and trailers.

Last year, on Highway 410 near Toronto, a sheet of plywood flew off a small utility trailer and through the windshield of a Volkswagen Jetta. Nobody was seriously hurt. If a load sticks out more than 1.5 metres from your vehicle, you need a red light at night and a red flag during the day.

Open and shut case?

While each province has its own rules, most are similar to Ontario’s – there are no specific rules about whether tailgates have to be closed, but loads have to be secure.

In British Columbia, for instance, driving with an unsecured load in a passenger vehicle could deliver an up to $598 fine.

B.C. RCMP say crashes caused by unsecured loads aren’t common, but they do happen. For instance, police say they’ve seen bikes and kayaks fly off vehicles and hit the vehicles behind them.

But if you’re not carrying a load that’s so long that you can’t close your tailgate, why would you keep it open?

According to Internet theories, driving with the tailgate down might improve your truck’s fuel economy. The idea is that the closed gate causes drag, which makes your truck’s engine work harder and use more gas.

But that idea is mostly a myth, according to a 1999 study by National Research Council (NRC) researcher Kevin Cooper. While there are ways to reduce drag, such as driving with a tonneau cover, driving with the tailgate down can actually do the opposite, especially on trucks with shorter boxes.

That’s because automakers design trucks so air flows over the tailgate. The air needs to bounce off the top of the tailgate, otherwise, it pools in the truck bed, creating drag. In Cooper’s tests with a six-foot box, lowering it increased drag by five per cent ­– and using a mesh tailgate cover increased it by another five per cent.

Have a driving question? Send it to globedrive@globeandmail.com. Canada’s a big place, so let us know where you are so we can find the answer for your city and province.

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