Overloading of Vehicles & Trailers

Overloading a vehicle isn't difficult to understand if you follow the guidance, and it's not always the case that drivers are aware of how to load correctly. However, it is an offence under the Road Traffic Act and carries a maximum penalty of up to £5,000 per offence, which could be as a result of overloading in connection with an axle (or axles), the gross vehicle to or the train weight of the vehicle. 

Overloading - Your Defence 

If your vehicle is stopped at a routine checkpoint and found to be overloaded, it will depend on the severity of the amount the vehicle is overloaded. Anything less than 5% will be treated as a minor overload, the driver will be cautioned and it may be that he/she will be allowed to continue, or will be requested to have the excess load removed before continuing the journey. 

If the overload is serious, the overload will be requested to be removed. This is an offence and the driver and O licence operator will be prosecuted. 

In some instances, the overload may only be on an axle, but the gross vehicle weight is not exceeded. In cases like this, the driver will be expected to re-position his/her load to comply with the axle weights of the vehicle, although it will likely be noted by the enforcement officer and it's likely that the offence will be included on the operators OCRS (Operator Compliance Risk Score). 

There are two statutory defences regarding the overloading of vehicles, which are that it must be shown that:

  • The vehicle was proceeding to the nearest available weighbridge to be weighed, or was proceeding from the weighbridge to the nearest suitable offloading point, or, 
  • That the vehicle was loaded to within its legal limits and the weight (either gross, train or individual axle) had increased in transit by no more than 5% and nothing had been added to the vehicle since it was first loaded. 

It must be remembered that overloading convictions can affect the decision of the Traffic Commissioner to suspend, revoke or renew a driver's vocational licence. If an operator and/or his driver is convicted of overloading, details of that conviction must be notified to the Traffic Commissioner or Traffic Area Office within 28 days of the offence being committed. 

Overloading convictions may be taken into account by the Traffic Commissioner who may decide to take action against the Licence holder. It should be remembered that when applying for an Operator’s Licence the authorities must be satisfied that the applicant has made acceptable arrangements to avoid overloading as per the undertakings on the online application when initially applying for an Operator’s Licence. 

If a vehicle has been overloaded, the driver and operator may be charged with the offence of using a vehicle in a dangerous condition, as the vehicle would no longer comply with certain parts of the Construction and Use Regulations 1986. 

Overloading and the problems created by doing so 

Overloading causes problems and likely consequences other than the obvious injury or potential loss of life to the driver, loading/unloading staff, other road users or the general public. The resultant problems caused by overloading any vehicle are: 

  • Significantly impair the driver's ability to brake and steer correctly 
  • Causes excessive wear and damage to roads, bridges, and pavements etc. 
  • Undue strain on tyres with the risk of tyre failure 
  • Causes the vehicle to be wholly unstable, especially on corners or at roundabouts 
  • They are consequently unfair competition for other hauliers 
  • The vehicle may become uninsured as the act of overloading is illegal 

Overloading is not only a problem for larger goods vehicles, it is equally a problem for smaller vehicles, such as vans, cars and passenger carrying vehicles. 

The additional problems of overloading will hit the bottom line of all operators, as overloaded vehicles if stopped:

  • Will not be able to continue their journey until the overload problem is rectified 
  • Penalties for being overloaded are high 
  • The vehicle may be clamped and not allowed to move until the overload situation is rectified and the release fee is paid 
  • Money and manpower will be required in having the excess load removed 

Preventing overloading 

Overloading a vehicle, whether a goods vehicle, Passenger Service Vehicle (PSV) or car, is illegal. Preventing your vehicle(s) being overloaded isn't difficult and procedures should be put in place as a policy of best practice. 

Companies need to have a "safety culture" in place which ensures that drivers understand weight legislation and immediately report any concerns that a vehicle is illegally overloaded to their manager. Their manager should investigate all concerns immediately to prevent overloading. 

Putting a policy of best practice in place may seem an obvious solution, but it isn't always undertaken. It is all very well considering that your drivers and warehouse staff should know what is safe to load, but for the majority of general hauliers, their drivers will be loading from manufacturers or warehouse distributors etc. 

 Problems can occur when loading at customers premises where (through human error) the weight of the consignment note is incorrect. Equally so, it may be the case that a client (or agent) merely wants the whole consignment to be loaded and doesn't consider the weight implications that may follow. 

Whatever the case, a policy of vigilance must be foremost at all times. 

Vehicles and Weight Checks 

DVSA employees, trading standards officers, and police officers carry out random checks at the roadside to enforce overloading regulations. It should be noted that these are carried out regularly, especially by the DVSA, who do so at all checkpoints. 

It should also be noted that there are WIMs (weigh in motion systems) strategically in place throughout the UK road network. 

Vehicle Overloading 

The weight limits displayed on either the manufacturers’ plate or ministry plate are determined by the technical specification of the vehicle and the need to protect GB roads and bridges from excessive wear.  

Vehicles are permitted to operate at weights above 44 tonnes in exceptional circumstances (such as when moving abnormal indivisible loads) but special provisions are in place to deal with such occasions, which can be found in the Road Vehicles (Authorisation of Special Types) (General) Order 2003. 

A vehicle is overloaded if it exceeds the weight limits displayed on either the manufacturers’ or ministry plates. A vehicle could be overloaded on its axle(s), gross and train weight, with each of these being separate offences; for example, a 3 axle articulated vehicle exceeding the plated weights on the 1st axle, and 2nd axle and gross weight would make both the vehicle operator and driver liable to three separate offences. 

It is important that vehicles are not overloaded, given that the effects are likely to be:

  • Road Safety - vehicles that are loaded beyond their design weight are likely to be less stable and will take longer to stop, particularly in an emergency 
  • Road Wear - the structural road wear attributable to vehicles is normally assumed to be proportional to the fourth power of the axle weight; this means, for example, that a 10% increase in the weight imposed on a road by an axle is assumed to increase structural road wear by 46%, and a vehicle with 2 times the axle weight of another vehicle will cause 16 times the wear 
  • Competition – overloading provides illegal operators with an unfair advantage over those operating within the legal limits 

If a vehicle’s gross or axle weight limits are found to have been exceeded when weighed by either DVSA, the police or trading standards officers, the company and/or driver risk prosecution. In addition to this, an overloading conviction is one of the factors that could lead to a Traffic Commissioner taking disciplinary action against the operator’s licence. The fines for overloading are high. 

In most cases of serious overloading offences, these would be dealt with in a magistrate’s court for both driver and operator and in the case of the operator, the operator would likely be summoned to a public inquiry (PI). 

The following should assist in giving guidance and further information, please use the links below. 

HGV Maximum Weights – Dft (Published 01 February 2010)