Research commissioned by Volkswagen and the DVSA in 2015 revealed that more than half of UK van drivers could be driving without insurance cover—because their vehicles are carrying too much weight. The same research suggested that as many as 75% of UK fleet business owners do not know their vehicles are uninsured when overloaded.

Half of UK businesses do not monitor vehicle weight

With almost 50 % of surveyed businesses admitting to not monitoring vehicle weight, and more than half of surveyed drivers admitting they don’t know the maximum load for their vehicle, it’s clear there is a problem on British roads. And an overloaded vehicle involved in a crash may incur more than just insurance costs.

Overloading and the law

The law is based on axle weight, gross weight, and train weight. Axle weight is the total quantity of weight transmitted to the road by all wheels on a single axle. Gross weight is the total weight of the loaded vehicle. Train weight is the total weight of a vehicle that has a trailer, including the trailer and load.

Your vehicle’s maximum weights are displayed either on the manufacturer’s plate, or on a plate issued by the Department of Transport. The vehicle is overloaded if it exceeds any of these weights, and can incur multiple overloading offences by exceeding more than one type of weight at the same time. So you could be penalised for exceeding axle weight on one or all of your axles (each axle representing a separate offence), for exceeding gross weight, and also for exceeding train weight.

Overloading by 5-10 % generates a £100 fine. Overloading by 10-15 % means a £200 fine. 15-30 % is a £300 fine, and excesses greater than 30 % will see you summoned to court.

The impact of overloading

Overloading is dangerous. A vehicle loaded to more than its designed specifications will not perform as it is supposed to. Stopping distances are increased, especially in the winter months, steering becomes unresponsive and unpredictable, and overturning is made more likely. Brakes, tyres, and suspension experience significantly increased wear and tear – and, once again, this is exacerbated by difficult, wintry conditions.

There’s also a clear impact on the road infrastructure. According to the Department of Transport, overloaded drive axles are the biggest single cause of wear and tear on British roads. Annually, overloaded vehicles are estimated to add £50m to the cost of maintaining the road infrastructure.

The final impact is felt by law-abiding fleet operators. Overloading confers an unfair commercial advantage on the unlawful operator, which is able to transport greater quantities of goods—at the cost of both road safety and road quality.

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