As the owner or manager of a transport company, you are committed to ensuring timely, efficient shipments. Whether you oversee a huge fleet of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) or a single vehicle for transporting goods, your profitability hinges on your drivers’ ability to make reliable, punctual deliveries. However, in the rush to make such deliveries, employers and drivers alike may be pressured into overloading vehicles, resulting in overburdened vehicles and drivers.

Overloading is never worth it—the risks far outweigh the benefits. Drivers could damage the cargo and the vehicle, or incur fines and prosecution for which you could be responsible. Overloading even presents a significant danger to other drivers on the road—if your business does not have any strategies in place for eliminating overloading, you could be liable for any injuries or death caused by your drivers’ overloading. Fulfil your legal obligation to your employees and members of the public by implementing policies that help prevent overloading vehicles.

Dangers of Overloading

Laws Regarding Overloading

Various pieces of legislation address vehicle overloading to ensure the safety of commercial drivers and other drivers on the road. Failure to obey the legislation can result in fines and prosecution and may even prohibit drivers from completing their shipment.

The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 require drivers to ensure that ‘all parts and accessories and the weight distribution, packing and adjustment of their loads shall be such that no danger is likely to be caused to any person in or on the vehicle or trailer on the road’. Additionally, the Road Traffic Act 1988 states that vehicle users must ensure that vehicles are not overloaded.

These two regulations enforce the idea that drivers are responsible for the safety of their vehicles and loads as well as any danger they may pose to themselves and other drivers.

Yet, under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, all companies have a duty of care to ensure the safety of their employees while at work. For employers, this means they must do whatever they can to ensure the safety of the drivers, such as enforcing policies to prevent vehicle overloading and conducting regular risk assessments. Therefore, employers and drivers alike are responsible for ensuring their vehicles are not overloaded.

The Consequences

The consequences of overloading can paradoxically slow down your shipments and endanger your business, in addition to other people. Some of the biggest consequences of overloading a vehicle include the following:

  • A less stable vehicle that is difficult to steer and takes longer to stop – When a vehicle’s maximum weight is exceeded, the vehicle reacts differently since it was not designed to carry a larger weight. The results of an overloaded vehicle can be fatal.
  • Massive strain on the vehicle’s tyres – Overloading places a huge strain on tyres that can cause overheating and rapid wear, increasing the chances of a premature, expensive and dangerous failure such as a tyre blow-out.
  • Insurance cover is void if the vehicle is involved in a crash – Because overloading a vehicle is illegal, your insurance cover may be invalidated in the event your overloaded vehicle is involved in an accident.
  • Excessive damage and wear to roads, pavements and bridges Such damage to roads is repaired using taxpayer money.
  • Increased fuel consumption – The burden of carrying an extra-large load increases the costs of the journey, potentially making your business’ deliveries cost more than they would with an appropriate load size.

Preventing the Overloading of a Vehicle

Preventing vehicle overloading in your transport business requires more than a cursory meeting or an offhand comment—it requires serious, organisation-wide cooperation. Communicate the following actions to your employees, which can help prevent a vehicle from overloading:

  • Know the weights of the load and vehicle. Weigh the vehicle to establish individual axle weights, if possible.
  • Find the vehicle’s maximum permitted axle weight and gross vehicle weight (GVW), which should be on the manufacturer’s plate or a Department for Transport plate. These are usually located in the vehicle cabin, on the chassis of trailers or under the bonnet. If the vehicle has plated weights from both sources, use the Department for Transport limits, as these are the legal limits.
  • Understand the difference between the GVW and the gross train weight (GTW). The GTW is the maximum permitted weight of the vehicle and any trailer being towed, while the GVW is only the maximum permitted weight of the vehicle and any load it is carrying. Both include the weight of the driver, any passengers and the weights of any pallets or packing cases.
  • Check the GVW before beginning a journey using either the company’s weighbridge or one nearby. Drivers can travel to the nearest available weighbridge, check the load and remove any goods if the vehicle is overloaded.
  • Redistribute the load appropriately after a drop-off to avoid overloading the axles.
  • Be wary of declared weights, delivery notes or invoices received from customers. The responsibility for overloading is held by the driver, not the customer, so drivers should always use their own information.
  • Ensure that the tag/lift axle is used correctly. Neglecting to use this axle when the vehicle is loaded could cause axles or gross weights to exceed the allowed limits.
Haulage Insurance
Rely on Weighbridges

Your drivers should have easy access to weighbridges that determine whether vehicles are overloaded. The government recommends that companies with a fleet of trucks install a fixed axle weighbridge or portable axle weighing system. If your company does not have one, you can find the nearest weighbridge here.

It is important to remember that installing or frequently using a weighbridge for your vehicles is not enough to prevent overloading—you must communicate to your employees the laws and consequences of overloading as well as strategies for preventing it. For more information on ensuring the safety and compliance of your business’ commercial drivers, contact the insurance professionals at Safe & Insured today on 0808 161 7008.

The content of this Risk Insights is of general interest and is not intended to apply to specific circumstances. It does not purport to be a comprehensive analysis of all matters relevant to its subject matter. The content should not, therefore, be regarded as constituting legal advice and not be relied upon as such. In relation to any particular problem which they may have, readers are advised to seek specific advice. Further, the law may have changed since first publication and the reader is cautioned accordingly. © 2015 Zywave, Inc. All rights reserved.