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Safe Loading, Cargo Handling and the Transit of Goods [Hardfacts]


The vast range of goods carried by road makes the regulations on loading a complex business, with many detailed requirements and official or unofficial codes of practice relating to different types of load.

The overall requirement is one of safety.

A code of practice on load security has been produced by DTLR under the title ‘Safety of loads on vehicles' to provide operators, drivers and loading staff with guidance as to the basic safety principles which must be followed generally.

The law requires that the weight, distribution, packing and adjustment of the load of a motor vehicle or trailer shall at all times be such that no danger or nuisance is caused or is likely to be caused to any person in or on the vehicle or on a road.

This requirement is contained in the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 (C&U).


  • Do make sure your vehicle's load space and the condition of its load platform are suitable for the type and size of the load
  • Do make use of load anchorage points
  • Do make sure you have enough lashings and that they are in good condition and strong enough to secure your load
  • Do tighten up the lashings or other restraining devices
  • Do make sure that the front of the load is abutted against the headboard, or other fixed restraint, etc, so that your load cannot move
  • Do make sure that loose bulk loads cannot fall or be blown off your vehicle


  • Don't overload your vehicle or its individual axles
  • Don't load your vehicle too high
  • Don't use rope hooks to restrain heavy loads
  • Don't forget that the size, nature and position of your load will affect the handling of your vehicle
  • Don't forget to check your load:
    - Before moving off
    - After you have travelled a few miles
    - If you remove or add items to your load during your journey
    - Don't take risks

Safety of Loads on Vehicles

The C&U regulations state that:

  • Weight, distribution, packing and adjustment of the load of a vehicle or trailer must at all times be such that no danger or nuisance is caused or is likely to be caused to any person in or on the vehicle or trailer or on a road.
  • The load carried must at all times be so secured or be in such a position that danger is not likely to be caused to any person if the load or part of it falls from the vehicle or moves on the vehicle itself.
  • No motor vehicle or trailer may be used for any person for which it is so unsuitable as to cause or be likely to cause danger to any person in or on the vehicle or trailer or on a road.

The Safety Problem

The problem of load security on vehicles is one of restraining the movement of the load against the forces which arise from a vehicle passing over undulations in the road, changing direction, accelerating or braking, etc.

It is easier to prevent a load from moving in the first place than to stop it once it has started moving, thus a load must be restrained in such a way that no part of it can move in any direction relative to the vehicle e.g. a load anchored securely against a bulkhead is likely to be safer than one which is loosely restrained and able to move a short distance.

If a load shifts or falls from a vehicle, both the driver and the operator of the vehicle are liable to be prosecuted for using a vehicle with an insecure load. Equally where a vehicle is found to be overloaded both the driver and the operator may be prosecuted

Choice of vehicle

The design and construction of vehicle and bodywork should be suitable for the loads which it is likely to carry.

Arrangements of loads

The load should be placed so that the centre of gravity is kept as low as practicable and near to the vehicles longitudinal centre line. Where possible:

  • The load should be spread to give an even weight distribution over the floor area;
  • When the load is stacked, the larger and heavier items should be placed at the bottom;
  • Heavier items should be placed nearer the longitudinal centre line and the lighter ones towards the sides;
  • The load should be checked frequently and the lashings tested for adequate tension.


A headboard should be capable of withstanding a horizontal force uniformly distributed over its vertical area of half the rated payload of the vehicle. Additionally, it should be:

  • At least as wide as the cab
  • High enough to obstruct forward movement of the load
  • Without apertures which allow penetration by the load and 
  • Sufficiently reinforced to prevent penetration by beams, girders, bars, etc

Load Securing Equipment

The best means of securing a load to a vehicle will depend on the type and composition of the load and must be strong enough for the weight of the load carried.
Advice is given in respect of the type and quality/size of securing devises: ropes, chains, webbing, nets and clamps.

Restraining devices

A combination of methods will usually be used to restrain a load including:

  • Lashings, secured to the vehicle chassis
  • Baulking arrangements, such as headboards, bulkheads and shoring bars
  • Friction between the load and vehicle platform

Any load restraint system used must be able to prevent movement of the load under certain forces of forward and rearward deceleration, lateral acceleration when a vehicle is cornering, and upward movement resulting from a vehicle going over bumps in the road.

Load distribution and centre of gravity

It is important to ensure that the maximum permitted gross vehicle weight and individual legal axle limits are not exceeded at any time, because of the transfer of weight.
If it does, the load must be re-distributed.

To keep the centre of gravity as low as possible, larger and heavier items should be placed at the bottom, on the centre line of vehicle, heavy items in front of light, crushable ones, and loads, if possible, spread to give an even weight distribution over the loading platform.

Do's and Don'ts for drivers and others concerned with the loading of vehicles.

The main principles for those concerned with the loading and driving of vehicles. The following offer sound and practical advice.

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