Using curtain-sided lorries or trailers to transport goods requires a very different skill set from driving a standard heavy goods vehicle (HGV), as professional drivers will know only too well.
Trailers and curtain-sided vehicles not only need to be driven in a different manner, they also require different methods of load restraint and containment. Some loads may need a combination of both to prevent the vehicle from shedding or rolling over – minimising the risks of causing an accident.
Under the Road Traffic Act 1991, a number of offences can be committed for not properly securing loads on curtain sided vehicles and HGVs. The law states that loads MUST be secured to the vehicle bed to prevent 100 per cent of forward movement, 50 per cent rear movement and 50 per cent sideways movement.
Failing to comply with these load containment measures can result in BOTH a driver and their employer being prosecuted if an accident is caused by an improperly secured load or shifting cargo. If the loading process was carried out by a third party, they may also be held responsible.
A driver, employer or load handler is responsible in the event of:
- Loads being shed which are not covered properly
- A shed load because an unsafe vehicle was in use
- Potentially hazardous loads being improperly secured
- Objects flying from an old or ill-maintained vehicle
- Unsecured loads or cargo falling from a vehicle
- Poorly balanced loads causing a vehicle to tip or swerve
To ensure that all or part of a load cannot be ejected from the vehicle, it is important to plan how secure the load will be as this can highlight potential issues before they become an on-the-road problem.
The person responsible for loading should always prepare a written load plan to the driver so that they understand how the load has been secured. This information should also be made available to those who will be in receipt of the delivery.
Who enforces the law and what is the penalty for unsecured loads?
The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) and the Police are responsible for enforcing the law concerning all aspects of goods vehicle loads – and the punishments are severe.
If a goods vehicle causes danger because of its load or passengers, the maximum penalty is a £5,000 fine, three penalty points on the driver’s licence (remaining for 4 years) and a disqualification.
A £100 fixed penalty notice can be issued to any driver carrying an insecure load and, depending on the severity of the offence, they may also have endorsements added to their licence.
Six steps to help properly secure loads on curtain-sided vehicles
When travelling at high speeds, even the smallest object falling from a vehicle can cause a serious incident, often because it triggers a series of events which are hazardous to other road users.
To minimise the chances of an unsafe situation occurring, the DVSA says drivers of curtain-sided vehicles should:
- Not expect heavy loads to remain in place under their own weight.
- Never use the curtains or weather-protection structure to secure a load.
- Always secure loads of 400kg in weight or less with internally fitted straps.
- Over-strap the load where possible, but only if suitable for the load type.
- Use a blocking or locking load restraint technique to directly restrict the load and ensure a positive or tight fit to the trailer bed.
- Place loads against the trailer headboard. If this is not possible due to uneven weight distribution, any gap to the headboard should be filled or an intermediate bulkhead could be used.
The best way to prevent an accident caused by an unsafe load is to follow the six steps outlined above and keep up to date with any suitable training. Doing so may mean that you never need to use the services of a specialist solicitor like myself
Thankfully, the fatality rate for HGV lorry drivers involved in accidents stands at slightly over 1 per cent – due to vehicle improvements and rising Health & Safety standards. Unfortunately, incidents of load shift do still happen and usually account for most of the major accidents involving professional drivers – particularly those who operate curtain-sided vehicles.
If you have been injured as a result of an improperly secured load, we would always recommend seeking legal advice. Hopefully, you’ll never need to do this. But if the worst does happen, you may be entitled to receive substantial damages for any pain, suffering and loss of earnings you’ve experienced.