The importance of safety of loads on vehicles

In the UK every year over 4000 successful prosecutions for unsafe loads are brought against drivers and operators. Many other incidents involving the loss of loads or part loads go unreported

Legal requirements and common sense require that all loads carried on vehicles are secured, whatever the journey. This is to protect the people involved in loading, unloading and driving the vehicle, together with other road users and pedestrians.

Our latest blog looks at the principles of load safety and how you can ensure your business is compliant and working safely.


The Road Traffic Act 1991 Introduced provisions into the Road Traffic Act 1988 making new offences, applicable to the state of loads on vehicles. These provisions reflect the seriousness with which the safety of loads on vehicles is now viewed.  Both loading and unloading should be subject to a risk assessment, as required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Loading and unloading should be carried out by trained staff who are aware of the risks involved. Drivers should also be aware of the additional risk of the load, or part of the load, moving when the vehicle is being driven. This applies to all vehicles and to all types of load. The driver is ultimately responsible for the load carried on their vehicle, whether or not they were involved in the securing of the load.

High Loads

Particular attention should be paid to the dangers of high loads that might have to pass under bridges or other structures across roads. Every year several hundred bridges are hit by lorries which are loaded too high or which are themselves too high to pass underneath. In some cases this has resulted in the drivers of the vehicles and other people being killed or injured. Any impact on a railway bridge has the potential to dislodge the rails, which can result in the derailment of a train and the possibility of a serious railway accident.

All vehicles with an overall travelling height above 3 metres must have the maximum height of the vehicle in feet and inches displayed inside the cab so that it is clearly visible to the driver

Any vehicle fitted with high level equipment that is capable of exceeding a height of 3 metres must be fitted with a visual warning device. This device must tell the driver if the equipment has been left in the extended position.

Principles of load safety

When a vehicle changes direction – cornering on roundabouts, overtaking etc., – friction is not enough to stop unsecured cargo from moving.

It is wrong to assume that the weight of the load will keep it in position. In fact heavier loads are more likely to move when the vehicle is in motion due to their kinetic energy being greater. Under heavy braking the weight acting in a forward direction can be equal to that acting down on the vehicle. Therefore, a load that is not restrained will not be secure.

The forces acting on the load during braking increase with the rate of deceleration and the weight of the load. So, when the vehicle brakes the load will want to continue to move in its original direction. The heavier the load and the harder you brake, the more the load will try to move.

Friction alone cannot be relied upon to keep the load in place. When the vehicle is moving, vertical movement caused by bumps will reduce any restraining force due to friction. This can reduce to zero if the load even momentarily leaves the bed of the truck.

It requires much more force to stop a load that has started moving than it does to prevent movement in the first place. This ‘battering ram’ effect increases rapidly with the increase in distance through which the load moves relative to the vehicle. It is essential therefore that the load is restrained in such a way that movement of the load on the vehicle is prevented.

The above provides a brief guide to the safety of loads on vehicles, for more information from the DVSA on this important subject, please refer to the full document HERE.

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