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Ignorance of the law is no excuse, so you need to know what's right and wrong

The 2018 Load Restraint Guide for Light Vehicles spells out clearly how you should load your vehicle and the correct method for restraining that load.

The overriding requirement is that you must restrain any load you are carrying on a light vehicle so that it:

– Stays on the vehicle during normal driving conditions – this includes heavy braking, cornering, acceleration and even minor collisions.

– Doesn’t negatively affect the stability of the vehicle, making it difficult or unsafe to drive.

– Doesn’t protrude from the vehicle in a way that could injure people, damage property or obstruct others’ paths.

Furthermore, you must pick up any fallen load if it is safe to do so, or arrange for someone to retrieve it.

It makes a change for different State and Territory authorities to agree on policy, but in this Guide they seem largely to have done so. There are a few exceptions, of course, but they’re mainly WA-related.

Those with a taste for irony will appreciate that the illustration on the cover page of the Guide shows a crew-cab ute with no load at all and with the front passenger’s door not closed properly!

The National Transport Commission’s 2018, third-edition Load Restraint Guides (LRGs) are unusual for government-produced documents : they’re readable, relevant and required reading for all of us who put loads in and on vehicles.  

There are two LRGs: one aimed at trucks and trailers above the car-licence limit and a shorter one for light trucks, vans and utes.

First up, the LRGs point out that freight falling off any vehicle, or heavy stuff moving in transit and making a vehicle unstable is a very serious situation that’s likely to caused damage, disruption or even death.

The ‘chain of responsibility’ starts with anyone who packs, loads, moves or unloads a vehicle and progresses through management layers, right up to business owners.

Back in the good ol’ days of tarped loads – yes, Virginia, before eight-year-olds knew there wasn’t a Santa Claus and long before canopies – it was matter of practicality for loads to be correctly secured.

See, back then, if you were sloppy with your tie down ropes you might have to slacken off the tarp to fix them en route, which was twice as difficult. Also, any driver worth his salt had a perfectly fitted tarp and no-one wanted to disturb and retie it.

Now-days, tensioning a load is much easier, thanks to ratchet straps for most freight, so perhaps the ease of load security has led to complacency.

The LRG lists a simple formula for ensuring load security:


The 10 steps

Every freight movement requires load restraint and there are 10 key parameters.

Planning the load

  1. Understand the load.
  2. Choose a suitable vehicle for the load type and size.
  3. Use a restraint system suitable for the load.
  4. Position the load to maintain vehicle stability, steering and braking.
  5. Check that vehicle structures and restraint equipment are in good working condition and strong enough to restrain the load.

Loading and unloading the vehicle

6. Ensure the load is stabilised.

7. Understand and use safe work practices when loading and unloading.

8. Ensure there’s sufficient load restraint to keep everyone safe.

Driving according to the load, vehicle and road conditions

9. Allow for vehicle stability, steering and braking when driving the loaded vehicle.

10. Check the load, the vehicle and all restraints regularly during the journey.

If every vehicle loader and driver followed those simple steps we wouldn’t have loads falling off or shifting. The fact that such incidents are daily occurrences indicates that the above 10 steps aren’t being followed.


Load securing details

The problem with the heavy vehicle LRG is its length and complexity, but the light vehicle edition is only 20 pages in length. It covers most of the typical ute, van and wagon loading situations you’re likely to encounter, but reference to the heavy vehicle LRG is recommended for less usual loads.

For some specific loads, reference to the heavy vehicle LRG is worthwhile. For example, a driver has to load a pallet of stacked individual items and is concerned that they might not remain stacked neatly during the journey: there are several illustrations of how such pallet loads can checked for stability.

Another illustration from the heavy vehicle LRG covers what can happen when carrying loads that can ‘settle’ or compress under the vibration of road travel. Tight straps at the start of the journey may loosen after a few klicks and require regular checking to make sure they continue to restrain the load.

A load that’s free to move back and forth inside a ute cargo box or tray-top side gates can easily develop enough momentum to break through their restraint. Less than body length and width loads need to be restrained independently of the gates, or ‘blocked’ with dunnage or empty pallets to prevent unrestrained movement against the headboard or gates. The heavy vehicle LRG illustrates how this can be done.

The 2019/20 bushfire crisis saw the need for many people to pick up 1000-litre intermediate bulk containers (IBCs) – plastic water tanks inside protective steel cages – to aid with fire-fighting. Drivers unused to carting liquids can be unpleasantly surprised by the propensity of part-filled liquid containers to cause roll-overs or unexpected ‘surges’ in acceleration, as more than few would-be fire-fighters found out.

The heavy vehicle LRG has a comprehensive chapter on how to transport liquids.

Loads that are likely to become ‘spears’ in the event of emergency braking or a rear or frontal impact – pipes, logs, lengths of sawn timber – get special treatment under the heavy vehicle LRG, so drivers unused to loading such materials can easily see what can go wrong.

Not all ute and trailer headboards are restraint-rated for ‘spear’ loads and may need additional reinforcement. Check out a log-truck headboard to see how strong such a load-restraint needs to be.

Tall loads are also well covered, emphasising their ability to topple and cause instability in a ute, light truck or trailer.

Low-height loads – stacked flat sheets, for example – are ideal from a load stability point of view, but difficult to retrain with lashings. A strap angle of less than 30-degrees doesn’t provide sufficient downward clamping force on the load and it may shift.

The importance of friction is highlighted in several sections of the LRG: the effect of a slippery tray deck and the need for more load restraint on smooth-surfaced loads or protective packaging.

Loads that can roll – vehicles and wheeled implements – are given special treatment that takes into account their natural ability to ‘escape’.

Pick up and delivery drivers are shown the need for consolidating loads during the work process, where the original load restraint needs to be varied to suit drops and collections.

I could go on with more examples, but you get the picture: download free copies of the 2018 Load Restraint Guides and read through them, so you know where to find the correct load restraint information when you need it. We’ve been loading and unloading trucks and trailers for years and we learnt plenty.


Light truck load restraint

How many times have you seen poorly loaded light trucks and utes on the road? It’s obvious that the people who loaded them didn’t know that the total width of the loaded vehicle shouldn’t exceed 2.5 metres – with 150mm maximum projection on each side – or the back edge of the overhanging load shouldn’t be more than 3.7 metres from the rear axle, or 60-percent of the vehicle’s wheelbase. 

Frontal overhang is another issue, because it’s not allowed to be more than 1.2 metres from the front of the vehicle. (In WA, both front and rear overhangs can’t be more than 1.2 metres from the ends of the vehicle.)

Most people know they have to attach a 300mm-long brightly-coloured flag to rear overhanging loads, but how many know that at night it must be a red light that’s visible from 200 metres away?

The dog in the back of the cocky’s or tradie’s ute is an Aussie icon, but the laws differ around the country. A cage that offers shade and water is by far the best solution, but how many dog owners do that?

Unless you’re absolutely sure you know how to load, unload and move every type of freight on every truck, trailer, ute or light truck we suggest you download copies of the Load Restraint Guides and have them easily accessible. 


As the old bloke who showed me how to drive a truck many years ago used to say: “Safety should never be sacrificed for any reason”. It’s a good maxim.
































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