Article by Solent Scales Services Ltd.: Everything You Need To Know About Vehicle Overloading

Article by Solent Scales Services Ltd.: Everything You Need To Know About Vehicle Overloading

Solent Scales Services Ltd. (United Kingdom) - Vehicle overloading is a serious offence with far reaching consequences.

Anyone caught driving with excess load risks inflicting financial and reputational damage. That’s often the least of their worries.

Overloaded vehicles are outlawed for safety reasons. Exceeding the maximum weight specified is to entertain compromised handling, slower stop times and poor stability generally. To do so is also to invalidate your insurance.

The Road Traffic Act of 1988 clearly states it’s the duty of “vehicle users” never to transport an illegal weight.

These rules apply to anyone getting behind the wheel of commercial vehicles, namely buses, coaches, lorries and vans.

The responsibility however is a shared one, falling not just on drivers but operators also.

The Health and Safety Work Act of 1999 outlines employers’ duty of care to staff. To guard against overloading, they must ensure strict, internal policies are in place to prevent them ever setting off in a vehicle deemed to be ‘unsafe’.

Anyone penalised for vehicle overloading can be either cautioned or prosecuted.

Fines reaching £5,000 may be meted out for every axle overloaded, as well as overloading on the total weight itself.

In particularly hazardous situations, drivers can be charged for Dangerous Driving, a crime that carries a two-year prison sentence.

Should the very worst happen, Manslaughter or Death by Dangerous Driving charges could be brought. Those involved in loading of the vehicle, if not the driving of it, could also be incriminated.

A combination of the DVSA and police have long acted as deterrents in this field.

The former stop more than 10,000 vehicles a year. In 2019 alone there were 80 prosecutions for overloaded Heavy Goods Vehicles.

Roadside checks are carried out at random using Axle Weigh Pads.

Vehicle overloading is both dangerous and damaging. Preventative measures should be taken to ensure you and your fleet never fall foul.

At What Weight Are Vehicles Overloaded?

The maximum weight permitted in any vehicle varies according to make and model.

Thankfully, it’s very easy to find your limit.

That’s because all commercial vehicles contain what’s known as a manufacturers plate. It’s this which highlights the maximum gross weight allowed.

Plates tend to be found in one of your engine bay, car door or windscreen. A quick glance will reveal both the unladen and maximum weights alike.

Most manufacturers also tend to detail the axle weight which, in no circumstances, should be exceeded. This is important because the DVSA will punish the guilty party on a per-offence-basis. This could easily result in drivers of four axle articulated lorries incurring four separate fines. That makes for an expensive day at the office, or out of it, if you will.

Van drivers can use a combination of Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW) and Kerb Weight to establish their load.

The latter reveals how much the van weighs by itself, with a full tank of petrol but without passengers or cargo.

Subtracting this total from the GVW reveals the maximum weight your allowed to transport in your van.

If in doubt, always refer to the vehicle manual.

DVSA Weigh In Motion Sensors:

Weigh In Motion Sensors (WIMS) are assisting the DVSA in their crackdown on overloaded vehicles, leading to four trucks being stopped on British roads every hour.

Watch our video to discover how they combine with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras to gauge the speed and weight of moving traffic and the process of alerting nearby traffic officers.

What Happens If You’re Caught Driving An Overloaded Vehicle?

Both the police and the DVSA carry out spot checks on thousands of vehicles across the UK every year.

Using axle weigh pads, they ascertain how much a commercial vehicle is carrying at that exact moment.

5% leeway is ordinarily afforded to drivers before a fine is issued, that is unless the excess weight totals more than a tonne.

Details of any fine, which can range from £100 (0-9% excess) and £300+ (+ 15% excess), will be shared with you and sent by post.

Recipients have 28 days to pay the fine or request a court hearing, should they wish to appeal.

Any drivers unable to provide a ‘satisfactory’ address will have to pay their fine on the spot. Listing your residence as a hotel, agency or solicitor’s offices will not suffice.

You may be wondering how you proceed onward with that day’s journey?

Well, it’s not uncommon for officers to issue a Prohibition Notice, preventing you from traveling any further until the weight is rectified. In that scenario drivers must literally unload there and then.

Of course, giving up stock in the middle of nowhere is seldom possible. In certain situations, authorities will issue a Direction to Drive Notice which permits you to move to a designated location in which to offload.

In the unlikely event you can discard excess weight there and then, you will receive a Removal of Prohibition Notice and be free to re-take to the roads.

The Consequences of Vehicle Overloading:

Anyone considering taking to the roads with an overloaded vehicle should think again. There are several reasons why.

The most immediate is the fact excess weight will greatly impact your ability to drive.

Steering alone becomes doubly difficult. Cornering is much slower (and harder) when carrying goods that tip you over the scales.

Misjudging a corner with that in tow could easily result in you causing an embarrassing and serious obstruction. Rest assured, irate drivers following in your wake will let their feelings known.

But it’s not just steering which is negatively affected. Alarmingly, stopping times are increased – sometimes with fatal consequences. It doesn’t take a science degree to realise extra load makes for longer stop times. While drivers can adapt en route and brake earlier, there may not be time for such adjustment.

This also increases the risk of collisions when faced with an unforeseen hazard. A sudden stop will not prove sudden enough. Those extra few seconds could result in a terrible accident.

A heavy load will inevitably place greater pressure on your tyres, accelerating wear and tear. Overheating caused by increased stock could lead to blow outs and all they entail. At the very least, owners will be forking out money for replacement wheels on an all too regular basis.

Talking of money, those driving overloaded vehicles will soon notice the frequency at which they’re having to fill up at a petrol station. The heavier your vehicle the more energy is required to manoeuvre it. This inevitably results in extra fuel consumption. The irony, of course, is many business owners turn a blind eye to overloading in order to save or make money!

Elsewhere the products contributing to any excess weight, some of which could be of a high-value, are often endangered. Cargo, like the lorry itself, can become horribly unstable and become dislodged and damaged. Your company will be liable for breakages.

We’ve already touched upon how driving overloaded vehicles invalidates insurance. It goes without saying, driving without such cover is breaking the law. Heavy fines and long bans can be given for doing so in this fashion and the negative attention that follows will saddle the business with a reputation not easily shaken.

Overloading is selfish in the extreme when you consider the impact it has on others.

Indeed, it creates an uneven playing field as competitors adhere to the rules while you flout them. The Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations Act of 1986 created a binding code of conduct whereby HGVs will not travel with extra capacity. The latter could translate to increased but unfair profit. It is in essence cheating.

Then there’s the physical damage inflicted on highways themselves. Over time roads will bear the scars of overloaded vehicles exerting extra pressure. The maintenance costs, reaching £50m annually, will be funded by the taxpayer. You may not be the sole reason roads buckle, but you will have played your part. Heavy axles and overloaded drive axles are the single biggest factors behind this kind of deterioration.

The aforementioned consequences should be enough to discourage vehicle overloading.

Vehicle Overloading Fines and Penalties:

Exceeding the maximum gross weight stated for any axle pad on a vehicle means you are guilty of overloading.

While punishments vary, none are particularly welcome.

Significantly, weighing your vehicle prior to beginning your journey is no excuse, even if it was roadworthy at that time. Crucially, you must satisfy the DVSA official inspecting the lorry there and then.

Vehicles are measured both by their maximum gross weight and that of each overloaded axle point. Given these can command fines of £5,000 each there is a chance you could cop a £30,000 penalty, something precious few can afford.

In addition to financial repercussions, offenders can be slapped with penalty points and driving bans.

If charges are brought for driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition, the Traffic Commissioner is duly informed. If your negligence warrants it, they will revoke your O (Operators) license. They will do likewise in the wake of repeat offences.

The knock-on effect of this the company’s Operator Compliance Score taking a serious hit. This will, predictably, result in more regular checks from the DVSA moving forward.

As highlighted above, overloading to the extreme can lead to charges of Dangerous Driving and with it a prison sentence.

Recklessness leading to fatalities could bring yet graver consequences in the form of Manslaughter and Death by Dangerous Driving sentences.

It’s never worth the risk.

How To Avoid Vehicle Overloading:

Now you’ve read up on vehicle overloading and the potential consequences, it serves to take appropriate steps to avoid that fate.

There are various ways in which you can ensure your vehicle never exceeds its maximum capacity.

The most obvious is to invest in your own, high quality weighing equipment.

Two products in particular stand out for this application – Axle Pads and Weighbridges.

Axle pads – commonly referred to as Axle Weigh Mats – are lightweight, portable and available in high-capacities. They are specifically designed to combat overloading and versatile enough to be taken on the road with you, ideal for those collecting and making deliveries. Keep reading for more information on axle pads.

Weighbridges – otherwise known as Truck Scales - are just as effective, albeit far larger. What are in essence platform scales, they are primed to weigh industrial vehicles and their contents when driven onto.

When a gross weight is unknown, weighbridges can identify this by taking a reading after products have been removed. Weighbridges can be installed in premises with ample floorspace. They are typically erected in the entrance way to weigh in-coming and out-going traffic.

Purchasing weighing scales that are both accurate and reliable is not possible for every business, particularly those just starting out. A helpful solution comes in the form of Hire Scales.

Not only does loaning scales reduce that initial outlay it takes away the inconvenience of calibration – which is a legal requirement. Those loaned to you will arrive fully tested and calibrated.

Hire scales are also great for those hoping to ‘try before they buy’. The difference they can make to your business is evident within a day or so.

Any company with a small fleet of vans or small trucks should ensure they either purchase or hire scales to guard against overloading.

Yet there are other alternatives. A great many scrap yards boast weighbridges which you can make use of.

Failing that, what are known as public weighbridges can be located and utilised for a small fee. Sadly, these are few and far between, but your local trading standard team can point you in the right direction.

Internally you can fend off complacency by providing drivers with sufficient and regular training on the loading of vehicles. Likewise, you can share written guidelines with them, documentation you can revisit at regular intervals.

Better still, you can perform your own random spot checks for insight into who and who isn’t adhering to the rules.

At the very least, you should be weighing vehicles multiple times a day. It’s not enough for drivers to rely on instinct and feel alone.

Just as importantly, any drivers harbouring concerns about the wider approach to vehicle overloading within the company should be confident enough to raise them. An effective line of communication and/or HR department will allow for that.

Finally, when collecting goods from a supplier location, drivers should make a point of using any weighing equipment available – and keeping subsequent printouts for their own records. At the very least this shows they have been vigilant.

Clearly, there is a host of steps that can be taken to avoid vehicle overloading.

Axle Pads vs Weighbridges:

As highlighted above; when it comes to vehicle weighing Axle Pads and Weighbridges are essential equipment. But which of the two is better? That ultimately depends on the needs of your business.

Weighbridges are not practical for every company, in part because a great many are permanent structures.

That said, they are the obvious choice for those needing to weigh several vehicles of varying shapes, sizes and maximum weight limits in a typical working day.

Technological advancements have also brought about modern designs such as Modular Weighbridges.

These come with up-to-date attachments such as Driver Operated Consoles, empowering the driver himself to oversee the weighing procedure from the comfort of the cabin.

These models, as the name suggests, bring modularity – meaning detachable sections. This is particularly useful for those weighing an assortment of vehicles but looking to maximise space. They are in effect acquiring several weighbridges for the price of one.

Not forgetting Surface and Pit Mount designs. The latter can be installed directly into the ground, making a flat surface for any vehicle to drive onto. No ramp is needed here, reducing the overall footprint of the device.

Surface-mounted weighbridges differ in that they sit on top of the ground and do not require a dedicated pit.

Turning attention to axle pads, these compact units are small enough to be stored inside the vehicle itself and can therefore be taken on the road with you. This is most welcome if several pit-stops with multiple collections are planned.

Overnight axle pads are easily stored at a depot, taking up little room.

Despite their size, this equipment can withstand great weight. Many are built for a capacity of 20,000kg though even higher specifications are available.

Axle pads also bring the added benefit of an Ingress Protection Rating (IP), denoting how well they combat dust and moisture, respectively. You’ll rarely find axle pads with an IP of lower than 54, which is where weathering begins.

There is also choice. Both two and four pad axle weigh systems are available from the likes of Solent Scales. While two is ample for axle weighing, given you can combine the weights to get an overall total, four provides even greater accuracy – allowing for individual corner and wheel weights.

What To Look For When Buying Axle Pads:

One look at the Solent Scales website will reveal the vast number of axle pads available for those looking to ensure their vehicle is never overloaded.

When faced with such choice, it serves to focus in on a handful of capabilities to narrow your selection.

Chief among these is size. We’ve already touched upon how compact axle pads can be and while this is ordinarily a good thing, it renders them worthless if yours is a large vehicle with dual wheel axles dwarfing the comparatively tiny weigh pads.

Knowing the surface weighing area required is vitally important. Of course, those wanting to travel with their weigh pads in tow will tend to gravitate to smaller models.

Capacity is another key consideration. An overloaded axle pad is nowhere near as dangerous as an overloaded vehicle but will still result in untold damage. Before purchasing it serves to know the maximum weight the equipment can entertain.

What’s known as overload protection can help with this to some degree. This helpful small print will detail what extra weight can be negotiated before the device succumbs. Note, this excess will not be displayed on screen.

Not forgetting charge or a lack thereof. Batteries are always preferable to long, hazardous extension leads. Ensuring you know which kind are required and where they can be purchased is advisable. So too is understanding whether replaceable and rechargeable batteries are compatible with the axle pads themselves.

A strong IP rating (as outlined above) is also vital. The two numbers displayed rank the axle pad’s effectiveness against dust and moisture. The higher the combined figure, the better. Certain axle pads will soon get damaged if used in the pouring rain.

Finally, a robust and intuitive indicator, one delivering printouts for records, is preferable.

Wireless Axle Weigh Pads:

Axle pads are good but the wireless equivalent can be even better.

Relatively new to the market, they boast all the benefits of a standard axle pad and then some.

One of their clear benefits is the fact they come without wires – eliminating cable damage altogether. One of the major drawbacks of traditional axle pads is the fact wires can get caught or even break away from the device altogether. In extreme cases this can necessitate costly repairs and with them unwelcome downtime. You can now avoid that dreaded scenario.

Because of this wireless axle pads offer even greater portability. They are light weight and boast an ultra-low profile – meaning they are easy to transport.

Another positive is the fact they integrate with PCs and tablets alike – which can, in turn, be transformed into remote display indicators themselves. A selection even contain smartphone software, meaning your phone can be synced and used to document readings with minimum fuss.

That flexibility extends to the systems themselves, which bring far more in the way of setup options. Indeed, you can connect 20 axle pads at one time, allowing you to weigh 10 axle vehicles (or an entire fleet) in one fell swoop.

On top of that wireless axle weigh pads come complete with an extra-long battery life, a transmission range of up to 100m and both lifting handles and optional ramps on request. Custom sizes and capacities are also available.

While weighbridges tend to stand up better to heavy rain, wireless axle pads are for the most part highly reliable.

Anyone who takes vehicle overloading seriously, will likely gravitate towards these given how they have modernised and simplified the vehicle weighing process. They are now the best way to eliminate overloading.

What Happens if my Vehicle Weighing Scales Malfunction?

Failing weighing scales are no excuse for vehicle overloading. Indeed, those buying or selling goods by weight, and relying on Trade Approval as a result, have a duty to keep such equipment in working order.

That said, deterioration is sometimes unavoidable. Rather than turn a blind eye and take to the road regardless, proactive steps should be taken to allow for accurate vehicle weighing regardless.

Aside from buying outright replacements, you have a handful of alternate options.

The first is sending your vehicle weighing scales away for Repair. The likes of Solent Scales have their own repair shop with a proven track record of restoring and returning scales in double quick time. In the case of an emergency, we can even send an engineer to the premises within eight working hours.

Funding scale repair is nearly always a cheaper alternative than funding replacement scales.

Should your vehicle weighing equipment be out of action for any considerable length of time, Hire Scales can be secured to cover you in the short to medium term.

These will arrive fully tested and accurate and can reduce downtime, as well as the temptation to ignore vehicle weighing, if only for a few days.

In the rare cases where scales cannot be repaired, hire scales allow you to trial a possible replacement in the meantime. Axle pads and even weighbridges can be sent to plug the gap.

The best way to guard against malfunctioning equipment is to sign up for a Service Package which includes regular maintenance work. Annual site visits allow for calibration in accordance with UK Weighing Federation Codes of Practice. Any potential problems can be flagged early, sparing you future inconvenience and a loss of productivity. Solent Scales offer packages that include call outs and a guarantee of spare parts, should the worst happen.

Vehicle overloading is incredibly dangerous and can impact far more than your bank balance. To avoid grave consequences, it serves to invest in weighing equipment designed to keep you roadworthy.

Driving with excess weight, even a small amount, is breaking the law. Be vigilant rather than negligent.

For more information about this article from Solent Scales Services Ltd. click here.

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