Overloading and Road Safety
Overloading has been recognized to be both a safety concern as well as a cost concern, and the National Department of Transport has incorporated a campaign against overloading in its Road to Safety strategy.
Economic growth demands an adequate transport infrastructure. Overloaded vehicles, especially freight vehicles, are destroying our roads, impacting negatively on economic growth – the damage caused grows exponentially as the load increases. Damage to roads as a result of overloading leads to higher maintenance and repair costs and shortens the life of a road which in turn places an additional burden on the state as well as law abiding road users who ultimately carry the costs of careless and inconsiderate overloading. If the problem of overloading is not controlled, this cost has to be carried by the road user, which will require significant increases in road user charges such as the fuel levy, vehicles license fees, and overloading fees to mention just a few. Overloading is a safety hazard that leads to unnecessary loss of life, and also the rapid deterioration of our roads, resulting in increased maintenance and transportation costs.
The Risks to Road Safety posed by Overloading
Overloaded vehicles threaten road safety and are contributing to many of the fatal accidents on our roads. The overloaded vehicle will not only put the driver at risk, but also passengers and other road users.
Overloading a vehicle will pose the following risks:
- The vehicle will be less stable, difficult to steer and take longer to stop. Vehicles react differently when the maximum weights which they are designed to carry are exceeded.
- Overloaded vehicles can cause the tyres to overheat and wear rapidly which increases the chance of premature, dangerous and expensive failure or blow-outs.
- The driver’s control and operating space in the overloaded vehicle is diminished, escalating the chances for an accident.
- The overloaded vehicle cannot accelerate as normal – making it difficult to overtake
- At night, the headlights of an overloaded vehicle will tilt up, blinding oncoming drivers to possible debris or obstructions on the roadway
- Brakes have to work harder due to ‘the riding of brakes’ and because the vehicle is heavier due to overloading. Brakes overheat and lose their effectiveness to stop the car.
- With overloading, seat belts are often not used as the aim is to pack in as many persons as possible into the vehicle
- The whole suspension system comes under stress and, over time, the weakest point can give way.
- By overloading your vehicle you will incur higher maintenance costs to the vehicle – tyres, brakes, shock absorbers and higher fuel consumption
- Insurance cover on overloaded vehicles may be void as overloading is illegal
Overloading a minibus taxi in South Africa
The Department of Transport, in conjunction with provincial traffic authorities, the South African National Roads Agency Limited (SANRAL) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial research (CSIR) has drafted the National Overload Strategy to address the problem of overloaded vehicles. The strategy covers the issues of self-regulation by the freight industry, funding, training and operational issues and a review of the 5% tolerance on the mass limit that is allowed for in the Road Traffic Act.
The strategy also contains several new and innovative aspects, such as:
- A strategy map that will assist planners in deciding on appropriate locations for additional weighbridges.
- A database containing information on weigh bridge operations and monitoring, as well as monthly reports that will be accessible via a website.
- This database will also contain information of habitual offenders.
- Practical guidelines on how to deal with these offenders are being developed.
- Portable scales are being evaluated, determining their accuracy and acceptability for prosecution purposes.
- Legislation to extend the responsibility of overloading to the consigner and the consignee is being drafted.
- New vehicle testing stations are equipped with state-of the art testing equipment such as break rollers to test the quality of a vehicle’s breaks, a scuff gauge to measure the wheel alignment and many others. This will ensure that when a vehicle is certified as being roadworthy it will definitely meet the prescribed standards.
- The National Roads Agency has invested in several weighbridges located on the N3 between Johannesburg and Durban, on the N4 between Witbank and Komatipoort, and on the N1 at Mantsole, located between Pretoria and Warmbaths.
- On the N3 and N4 the National Roads Agency has entered into performance based agreements with the private sector for the operation and administration of the weighbridges, and service agreements with the Provincial Traffic Authorities in order to ensure a dedicated attack on overloading.
- Over a period of five years, this investment will exceed R500 million
- This strategy includes the monitoring and weighing of vehicles attempting to bypass the weighbridges by using alternative routes.
In China the efforts to curb overloading has included a successful campaign giving publicity and conducing education, reinforcing execution of traffic law, standardising vehicle manufacturing and refitting, labeling vehicle tonnage, reducing toll fees paid by haulers, and so on.
Recommendations & Advice
- Know the weight of your vehicles – both the permitted axle weight and the gross vehicle weight
- The gross vehicle weight is the maximum permitted weight of the vehicle (plus any load it is carrying)
- The permitted weights can be found on ‘plates’ which are fitted to all buses and coaches. These are normally fixed to the chassis, often in the engine bay. It may alternatively be fixed to the bodywork on the inside of the vehicle, usually by the entrance or emergency door. On minibuses, the weight can be found in the manufacturer’s handbook
- The driver must take into account the weight of the passengers as well as possible packages, suitcases etc
- Distribute your load appropriately to avoid overloading axles
- Companies need to have a “safety culture” in place which ensures that drivers understand weight legislation and immediately report any concerns that a vehicle is illegally overloaded
- Vehicle weights (before and after loading) should be checked using a weighbridge
- Companies that do not have their own in-house weighbridge can use one belonging to a client or a company nearby, or a public weighbridge. Use a weighbridge as close to your depot as possible to check every load your vehicles carry.
- It is recommended that companies with a fleet of articulated trucks or a very high volume of traffic should install a fixed axle weighbridge. These give rapid axle and total weight checks on all types of commercial vehicle.
- Companies that run fleets of two-axle rigid chassis vehicles could consider purchasing one of the several types of portable axle weighing systems