Abnormal loads: Rules & Regulations, what you need to know.

Transporting abnormal loads by road is a necessary part of many haulage activities, and with careful planning it’s possible to minimise delay and disruption, both to the load being transported, and to other road users.

In this article we’ll take a look at what classes as an abnormal load in the UK, as well as some of the ways people transport oversized loads, the planning and permission that goes into moving them by road.

What classes as an abnormal load?

First of all, it’s important to know whether the road freight you need to transport is considered to be an abnormal load in the UK.

According to the latest guidance on GOV.UK, your vehicle qualifies as an abnormal load if it meets any of the following criteria:

  • More than 2.9 metres in width
  • More than 18.65 metres in rigid length
  • More than 44,000 kg in weight
  • A single non-driving axle load of more than 10,000 kg
  • A single driving axle load of more than 11,500 kg

If your load exceeds any of those limits, you must make sure you notify the authorities and take any extra steps to plan your journey so that you can reach your destination quickly and safely.

How to notify the authorities of an abnormal load

Use the Highways England Electronic Service Delivery for Abnormal Loads (ESDAL) system to notify the relevant authorities of your intention to transport an abnormal load.

You can fill in an abnormal loads movement application form if you’d prefer not to use ESDAL; however, ESDAL has additional features including advance warning of possible route problems, and assistance when plotting your journey.

Make sure you leave enough time to get any special permissions you need, for example from police, highway authorities and bridge owners, before the date on which you intend to transport your load.

Abnormal loads rules and regulations

Depending on the type of vehicle you use, a different piece of legislation may apply to your abnormal load.

For most general road freight vehicles, the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986 set out the characteristics that must be met.

In unusual cases, it’s possible to transport vehicles that do not comply with those regulations – for example, very large plant machinery, agricultural vehicles and mobile cranes.

For those and equivalent vehicles, the relevant legislation is the Road Vehicles (Authorisation of Special Types) (General) Order 2003, commonly referred to by its abbreviation, STGO.

The precise rules vary depending on the applicable legislation, and on the size and weight of your cargo, so check before you start your journey.

How do people transport oversized loads?

There are several common precautions taken when transporting oversized loads, to protect other road users, the cargo itself, and the roads and bridges along the route.

Some typical examples include:

  • ‘Wide load’ warning signs and other high-visibility notices to other drivers
  • Escort vehicles and outriders to prevent other traffic coming too close
  • Police support and temporary road or junction closures as the load passes through
  • Additional markings for projections beyond the normal sides or ends of the vehicle
  • Special permission from road and bridge owners to include them in your route

In some cases, extra ground protection may be needed, such as the use of temporary road plates to avoid placing too much pressure on weak ground or where there is a known cavity below the surface.

Overall, there is a clear process to follow to identify and notify abnormal loads, but it is essential to do this correctly and well ahead of time, so that any immediate obstacles can be overcome, and to get the necessary permissions in place so your transport can proceed.