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Overloading a vehicle is an illegal offence which occurs when a vehicle’s maximum permissible weight limit is exceeded. Driving a vehicle that is overloaded can not only result in the vehicle becoming potentially hazardous to the driver and other road users, but it can also carry a range of legally enforceable penalties – from vehicles being impounded to fixed penalties and even prison sentences.  Annually published statistics suggest that instances of prohibition notices are on the rise and industry research has shown that in many cases, drivers and operators are not even aware that their vehicles are travelling over the limit. 

If you don't already have a vehicle overload protection system fitted on your vehicles, here are a few facts to consider:

1. Increased likelihood of accidents

When a vehicle is overloaded, even by a small amount, it can change how the vehicle handles.  The excess weight can lead to it being less stable on the road, harder to steer and react differently in an emergency situation when braking or performing extreme manoeuvres. Even experienced drivers could lose control of a vehicle that is overloaded and it is important to educate drivers about not only the potential penalties, but about how a vehicle could handle when over it’s weight limit. The responsibility for an overloaded vehicle being involved in an accident does not stop with the driver.  The vehicle operator is also at fault and prosecutions for health and safety infringements, dangerous driving and corporate manslaughter have all been successfully brought against operators.

2. Legal action & penalties

Roadside penalties are on the increase, including those issued for vehicle overloading, roadworthiness and drivers’ hours.  For excess weight offences, the fixed penalty payable is dependent on the severity of the offence.  Currently, the DfT’s fixed penalty fines start at £100, but cases of serious overloading bypasses fixed penalties and usually results in a court summons being issued.  In addition to these penalties, if the examiner deems the effect of the excess weight and the manner in which the load is carried to have a significant effect on road safety, additional or alternative road traffic offences may be declared, leading to court action.

3. Company reputation

Most businesses would agree that their reputation is a vitally important factor, directly contributing to how successful they are. This is becoming an increasing consideration as the road safety agenda grows in its awareness and prominence. Therefore, a business being found to operate overloaded vehicles and potentially disregarding safe and legal road traffic practices could be held in serious disregard by industry suppliers, customers and the general public. This could ultimately be destructive to not only a business’s immediate reputation, but also it’s future prospects. 

4. Increased running costs

Often, the reason cited by drivers for a vehicle being overloaded is to save time and money, but the reality is that if a vehicle is overloaded, it’s running costs can be dramatically increased.  The additional weight can increase vehicle fuel consumption, increase tyre wear and tear and significantly reduce the longevity of the vehicle’s brakes. It’s ultimately false economy!

5. Vehicle downtime

Roadside checks are on the increase and when a vehicle is stopped and checked, even if it is found to be within its legal limits, it is a timely and often costly exercise. However, if a vehicle is found to exceed its legal weight limit and a fixed penalty notice or conditional offer is issued, the examiner will also prohibit any further driving of the vehicle on a road. In effect, the vehicle is declared "off the road" with immediate effect. Thus, not only will the vehicle not be able to go about its business for that day, but it may result in other vehicles being used to cover this workload.   

6. Damage to roads and transport infrastructure

There are often reports of above and below road structures and bridges being affected by overloaded vehicles. This can lead to increased maintenance works and consequently road disruption.  This inevitably has an effect on all road users.

7. Invalidates insurance

If a vehicle is overloaded, it is breaking the law and any insurance in place for the vehicle can potentially be invalidated. Therefore, in the event of an accident involving an overloaded vehicle, there may not be any insurance cover leading to spiralling costs and vast amounts of time and administration.

8. Withdrawal of licence

According to the DVSA, most instances of illegal vehicle overweight infringements are dealt with by issuing a fixed penalty notice, but the Traffic Commissioner is still able to act upon the overloading conviction.  As a result, both the driver’s and/or operator’s licences can be revoked, suspended or renewal denied. 

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