Loading your vehicle

It’s vital to make sure you secure the load on your vehicle correctly to keep the vehicle stable when you’re driving. You’ll need to think about

what the load is, its weight, height, shape and volume

whether the vehicle is suitable for carrying the load

how stable the load is

what type of restraint to use

protecting the load from the weather, theft and damage

how to deliver the load.

Different loads will need to be positioned and secured in different ways. See your company loading policy for the correct procedures. The Official DVSA Guide to Driving Goods Vehicles also contains advice on loading.

As a general rule, the weight of the load should be distributed evenly over the axles to increase stability of load, with the centre of gravity of the load kept as low as possible.

Different types of heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) may have different characteristics, which you’ll need to know about so you can drive and operate them safely. For example, when emptying a tipper truck, you’ll need to understand how the centre of gravity of the vehicle changes when you’re tilting the vehicle body so you can make sure the vehicle will not overturn.

If you’re new to driving a particular type of vehicle, ask the vehicle operator for information and training to help you operate it safely.

Calculating the payload

The payload is the maximum load your vehicle can carry. You can calculate it using the maximum authorised mass (MAM) and the kerbside weight of the vehicle.

MAM – kerbside weight (total weight of vehicle and fuel, but not driver or load) = payload

Maximum permitted gross axle weights

The maximum permitted gross axle weights depend on the axle spacing and tyre equipment on a vehicle. You’ll need to calculate the gross axle weights so you can make sure your vehicle is not being overloaded.

(Payload in tonnes × distance from centre of load to rear axle in metres) ÷ wheelbase length in metres = front axle load in tonnes

To find the rear axle load, subtract the front axle load from the payload.

These calculations will tell you how much of the payload is being imposed on the road by each axle. To find the true figure of the total weight being imposed on the road by the entire loaded vehicle, you’ll need to add the axle kerb weights (ie the empty vehicle weight).

Changes to the axle weights during a journey

On journeys where you’re making two or more deliveries, you could find that an axle becomes overloaded when part of the load is removed from the vehicle. Redistribute part-loads to keep the weight evenly distributed and within the axle weights.

Changes to the weight of your vehicle

A vehicle that is loaded will handle differently to one that is unladen. Whenever the weight of your vehicle or the distribution of weight in your vehicle changes, you’ll need to adjust the way you drive and think about whether you need to make any adjustments to the vehicle.

When your vehicle is loaded, try to

  • brake in good time and, if possible, when driving in a straight line
  • look well ahead to avoid harsh braking
  • reduce speed before making a turn to avoid turning and braking at the same time.

Securing a load

Make sure you use a suitable device to secure the load on your vehicle and that you attach it to the correct anchoring points. Do not use the rope hooks (bolted or welded to the underside of side rails or outriggers) because they’re unlikely to be very strong. Check the capacity of the load anchorage points, which should be marked on the vehicle.

Find out more about different restraints or securing your load in The Official DSVA Guide to Driving Goods Vehicles.

Check the load and securing devices periodically to make sure nothing has moved or become loose.

The higher the load, the higher it will make the vehicle’s centre of gravity. This will make the overall vehicle and its load less stable: try to keep the heaviest part of the load as low as possible.

The load restraint system must be strong enough to withstand a force of

  • at least the total weight of the load forward, to prevent the load moving under severe braking
  • half the weight of the load backwards and sideways.

Make sure the restraints and the anchor points, when combined, can bear these weights.

Protecting different types of load

Some loads carried on an open vehicle should be covered, especially granular or flaked materials – for example, loose dry sand or ash should be covered with a sheet to stop the load blowing away.

Covering a load with a sheet will also help protect the load from rain or snow, which can make some loads become very heavy (eg sand or ballast).

Other loads may be covered with mesh netting, such as builders’ waste, to make sure nothing can fall from the vehicle.

Load stability

If you steer, accelerate or brake suddenly, it can cause the load on your vehicle to become unstable or even fall off, which then makes the vehicle unstable.

  • Sudden acceleration can make a load fall off the back of the vehicle.
  • Harsh braking may make the load move forward, causing the vehicle to skid or making the front of the vehicle dip downwards.
  • Tubular loads, such as scaffolding poles and girders, can move forward with enough force to demolish the headboard, with fatal results.

Your vehicle could shed its load as a result of

  • driver error – usually a sudden change of speed or direction, or driving too fast
  • an unstable load, eg the load has moved, been badly loaded or not restrained correctly
  • mechanical failure, eg suspension or tyre failure, disengaged trailer or wheel loss
  • collision with another vehicle, a sign, a bridge, etc.

Shedding a load while you’re on the road can lead to delays, injuries and damage to other road users, and can cause your vehicle to go out of control. Most shed loads are preventable: make sure you know how to handle your vehicle correctly and safely, and that the load is properly secured.

Because of the forces acting on a large goods vehicle, loads are most likely to become unstable when you’re driving

  • around roundabouts
  • on slip roads
  • on long (fast) bends.

You’ll need to be particularly careful to avoid driving too fast and sudden steering, acceleration and braking in these situations.

Checking the load

The load on your vehicle can shift during a journey. Watch out for signs such as leaking liquid, noises that could mean the load is moving inside your vehicle or a change in the way the vehicle handles. If you notice a change, stop as soon as you can safely and check the load.

If you can, re-secure the load before you continue your journey. However, if you cannot fix the problem on your own you’ll need to ask for advice and/or help – do not start driving again until the load is secure.

You should check loose loads carried in a container periodically because they can move inside the container when you’re travelling up and down hills, and could overload the axles.

Carrying dangerous or obnoxious goods

If you’re going to be transporting dangerous goods on your vehicle, the vehicle operator must give you information about the goods before loading the vehicle, including emergency information.

The vehicle will need to have markings on it to clearly identify what it’s carrying. You must make sure the correct symbol or mark is clearly visible on your vehicle: it could affect how the vehicle is handled if it’s involved in an incident.

Before you drive a dangerous load, you’ll need to have training on how to drive the load safely. Your operator should provide this: if you’re not sure whether you’ve had appropriate training, check with your operator.

You’ll need a vocational training certificate, known as an ADR certificate (GOV.UK), if you’re driving

Lifting loads safely

As a heavy goods vehicle (HGV) driver, you’re likely to do some manual handling and lifting. Lifting loads in the correct way is important to avoid injuring your back – which can then affect your ability to drive.

To reduce the risk of an injury when you’re lifting,

  • follow the systems of work provided
  • use any equipment that’s provided to help you properly
  • tell the relevant person if you identify any hazardous handling activities
  • make sure you do not put others at risk as a result of what you’re doing.

Always try to use good techniques for lifting and handling so they become a habit.

  • Before you lift, think about what you’re lifting and where it’s going. Can you use anything to help you? Do you need to move anything out of the way? Will you need help?
  • Start from a stable position with your feet apart, one leg slightly forward of the other to keep balance. Move your feet during the lift if you need to.
  • Start in a good posture. Avoid fully bending your back (stooping) or fully flexing your hips and knees (squatting): it’s better to start the lift with a slight bending of your back, hips and knees.
  • Get a good hold on the load so there’s no risk of it slipping or falling.
  • Keep the load close to your waist: keeping it close to your body will make it easier to lift.
  • Avoid twisting or leaning sideways, especially while your back is bent. Keep your shoulders level and facing in the same direction as your hips. Move your feet to turn rather than twisting.
  • Keep your head up – do not look down at the load when you’ve got it securely.
  • Move smoothly rather than jerking or snatching.
  • Do not lift or handle more than you can easily manage. If you’re struggling with a load, you’re far more likely to get injured.
  • If the load needs careful positioning, put it down before adjusting it.

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