Not only is an overloaded truck in violation of numerous state and federal regulations, it is unsafe to operate. As statistics show, year-after-year, overloaded trucks are one of the leading causes of truck-related accidents. The reason is that payloads that are overweight or unbalanced increase the likelihood a driver may lose control of the vehicle.

Additionally, overloaded cargo is more likely to shift, which can result in loads being distributed improperly. When load shifts during a lane change or sudden turn, there is higher risk of rollover. Even if a vehicle does not exceed payload limits, improper loading can cause a truck to be off balance, further increasing susceptibility to rollover accidents. Similarly, an insufficiently secured payload can result in cargo items falling off the truck while it is moving, possibly precipitating an accident and subsequent liability exposure.

When a vehicle is overloaded, its emergency handling capability is reduced, which can result in an accident. The braking distances for overloaded trucks will increase, causing drivers to misjudge stopping distances. Likewise, an overweight truck will go down an incline much faster than expected by an inexperienced driver, requiring additional braking force to stop in time.

Costs Increase Due to Needless Wear-and-Tear

In addition to safety concerns, an overloaded truck is costly to maintain and operate. When a truck is overloaded, the truck’s operating performance will be strained, accelerating wear-and-tear on brakes and other components. For instance, tire failure rates are higher because tires run hotter due to the increased load. Fleet maintenance surveys consistently show that overloading is the No. 1 cause of unscheduled maintenance for trucks. Failure to consider payload and weight distribution during day-to-day fleet operations may result in equipment failure and possible personal injuries, resulting in legal liabilities.

Another prevalent problem is axle overloading. Even though a vehicle's payload is within OEM limits, the vehicle may still be overloaded on one of its axles. It is possible that a front or rear axle is overloaded with only a portion of the maximum payload on the truck. Load distribution is the key to avoiding axle overloading. This can cause premature wear-and-tear on tires and suspension components. It also affects vehicle driving characteristics.

Managers need to ensure drivers pay attention to load distribution. It is important to train drivers on proper loading techniques so they don't create an unsafe situation. For instance, a raised center of gravity caused by improper loading increases rollover risk.

The best way to determine if a vehicle is overloaded is to go into the field and assess vehicle usage. For instance, drivers may be requesting the wrong vehicle for the fleet application, while the fleet manager thinks everything is fine. Visually check for a sagging rear-end; irregular tire wear; premature brake wear; and loose, unresponsive suspension and steering. All may indicate overloading. Maintain tighter inventory control of what is carried in the vehicle. Eliminate unnecessary equipment and other unnecessary items. If given an opportunity, drivers will carry everything they can conceivably fit into a vehicle.

A good rule of thumb to avoid overloading is to overspec for a fleet application when placing your new vehicle orders. Build a 15- to 20-percent cushion into a vehicle's payload capacity. Also, involve end users in spec'ing vehicles. If your overriding goal is to minimize acquisition costs by going to lighter trucks (while not changing payload requirements), try selecting a different category of vehicle. For example, a cargo van may not be the best for your needs; you might do better with a pickup truck with a topper combination and pull-out shelving system to haul more weight.

Fleet managers should avoid modifying under-spec'ed trucks to accommodate greater payloads, such as changing tire sizes, adding spring kits, air shocks, heavy-duty brakes, and anti-sway kits. In many ways, these modifications are self-defeating. These components can add significant weight to the chassis, which reduces the available payload by several hundred pounds. However, the key reason to avoid modifying a vehicle is that it creates an unsafe situation by changing the integrity of the vehicle. In addition, modifications may result in warranty claim denial and increase liability exposure if there is an accident.

Liability Exposure Increases

A fleet may be held liable for accidents caused by overloading under a theory of indirect liability, such as respondeat superior or vicarious liability, or through a theory of direct liability involving negligent hiring, negligent supervision or retention, or negligent entrustment. Too often, attempts to eliminate overloading are simply given lip service. Two important things to remember are:

  • Overloading shortens a truck’s service life and increases operating expenses.
  • Overloading is a safety and risk management issue, which increases corporate liability exposure.

It’s time to be proactive before an unnecessary tragedy occurs and expensive litigation ensues.

Let me know what you think.

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About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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