Haulage industry - overloading and weighbridges

Why is overloading a problem?

  • Vehicles that are overloaded cause excessive wear and damage to roads, bridges, and pavements.
  • Overloading can affect your safety by making the vehicle less stable, harder to steer, and more difficult to stop in an emergency.
  • Overloaded vehicles are in unfair competition with other hauliers.
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Do you know that you are liable to prosecution if you drive an overloaded vehicle?

The law imposes fines of up to £5,000 for each offence; that is for each overloaded axle plus any overloading on the total weight. It is not just your employer and the owner of the vehicle who may be liable. If an overload is detected, you are likely to be prosecuted. Your vehicle may also be prohibited, meaning that you cannot continue your journey until your load has been redistributed or the excess removed.

All goods vehicles - from small vans to heavy lorries. The manufacturer's weight limits for your vehicle are shown on a plate fixed within the engine compartment or cab. If a Department of Transport plate is fitted, it may well show lower weights than the ones on the manufacturer's plate. The Department of Transport figures take priority and you must ensure you do not exceed them.

Gross weight means the total weight transmitted to the road surface by all of the wheels of the vehicle. It includes the weight of the driver and any passengers.

Train weight relates to vehicles drawing trailers e.g. articulated HGVs. It is the sum of the weights transmitted to the road by all of the wheels of the vehicle and trailer.

Combined Transport is when road haulage and rail freight are used together. Some vehicles may run at a higher weight when (but only when) they are involved in combined transport.

Know your vehicle

You can prevent overloading by knowing your vehicle. It is important when you buy a new vehicle or have it repaired that you have it weighed empty. This will enable you to calculate the weight of the load that it can carry.

It is also useful to weigh the vehicle fully loaded axle by axle so that you can ensure the axle weight limits are not exceeded. You may find that to prevent the overloading of some axles it is advisable that the vehicle is not fully loaded. In the case of an articulated vehicle the position of the point of pivot of the trailer onto the tractor unit (known as the 5th wheel coupling) has been found to be crucial in the correct loading of tractor units and the drive axle. Care should be taken to ensure it is correctly positioned.

Remember that the maximum permitted weight is a maximum and not an average. If you always aim for the maximum you are liable at some time to be overloaded.

Weigh your vehicle

If you have any doubts about the weight of your vehicle or the axle loading, you should weigh your vehicle at a weighbridge.

You are permitted to go to the nearest available weighbridge to check your load, and, if it is overloaded to go from there to a place where the excess can be removed.  A vehicle which can be shown to have set off correctly loaded is permitted to gain up to 5% due to the action of the weather or to taking on fuel.

We have a list of the weighbridges in Cornwall.

Where can I check-weigh? 

You must use the nearest available weighbridge, which could be your own or your customer's weighing facilities, or a nearby public weighbridge. 

Invoices and delivery notes

These weights should be treated with some caution. Many customers do not know the weight of the load and often their declarations are "guesstimates" at best. Also, the stated weights may be the net weights of the goods, with no account being taken of the weight of the packaging or loading pallets.

Multi-drop deliveries

Removal of part of a load on a vehicle can cause an axle that was satisfactory to become overloaded. Removal of part of a load from the rear of a vehicle can increase the weight transmitted to the road by the front axle. If your business involves multi-drop deliveries, you may need to redistribute the remaining load after each drop.

Who can weigh my vehicle?

Any police officer or other authorised person i.e. Trading Standards Officers and Department for Transport Officers. If you refuse to co-operate, you will commit an offence of obstruction.

These notes are for guidance only and do not represent an authoritative interpretation of the law, which can only be given by the Courts.