Every vehicle on the road has a permitted weight to certify what the maximum safe laden weight is, which can be split to show each axle, along with declaration of the unladen vehicle weight. It may also show the permitted train weight which refers to the vehicle when towing a trailer.

This is commonly referred to as the plated weight and should normally be displayed on the vehicle as provided for by the manufacturer or the Department for Transport.

There are obvious risks of overloading a vehicle. It can put undue stress on the tyres and affect the general handling due to effect on suspension, which could lead to serious road traffic incidents. It not only puts the driver at risk but also other road users. It is a criminal offence to use a vehicle when overloaded.

In some instances, where the weight of load is shown on the articles or boxes, a user can get a vague idea of the weight of the vehicle, but it is always imperative to properly check a vehicle weight, once loaded, in order to have an accurate reading. The most common method of weighing a loaded vehicle would be to visit a local Weighbridge. These are privately run services but will allow you to accurately assess whether you are safe to drive with your load. In a period of time where there is much scrutiny of the safety of goods vehicles on the road, many Operators are also turning to use of their own equipment to ensure the compliance of the vehicles and drivers.

Under the law, overloading is generally what is described as a strict liability offence. This means that if the vehicle is overloaded, as a matter of fact, both the driver and employer can be liable for prosecution and a fine. Detection will invariably involve the police or DVSA which means that until the weight is reduced to an appropriate level, the vehicle will be subject to a prohibition notice and unable to go back on the road to continue the work.

Clearly this can be an extremely costly affair. The Courts have the power to impose unlimited fines, and any fine will be increased by 10% with every percent by which the offending load exceeds the permitted weight. Not only will there be criminal sanctions, but the prohibition notices will be referred to the Office of the Traffic Commissioner which may result in regulatory action against the driver and the Operator.

In limited circumstances, there will be a defence against the prosecution for overloading. If you can show that you are en route to the nearest weighbridge to where the vehicle was loaded, the user may escape liability. Similarly, where the load has been initially weighed and shown to be within the permitted limit but it has later increased by no more than 5%, a user can escape liability by showing that no-one as interfered with the load in the interim period.

The message is clear in relation to overloading. Both drivers and employers need to put safety first and ensure that their training and procedures can prevent any infringements of this kind.

If you do face prosecution, take legal advice by contacting our solicitors on 0800 046 3066 to see if there is any scope to challenge the prosecution or if the mitigation would allow a deviation from such heavy sentences which will otherwise follow.