Guest Column | October 5, 2023

7 Expert Techniques For Maneuvering And Stabilizing Oversized Loads

By Emily Newton, Revolutionized


Oversized loads can be rewarding and profitable to ship if you have the right qualifications. They also can be easy to damage and even dangerous if you’re not careful. In light of these risks and rewards, it pays to learn all you can about maneuvering and stabilizing oversized loads before taking on these jobs.

Why Oversized Loads Require Extra Attention

Driving any large truck is potentially dangerous. In 2021 alone, more than 4,000 people died in crashes involving large trucks. Carrying a load even heavier and harder to maneuver than the average trailer can make these accidents even more likely without proper planning and attention.

Because oversized loads are wider than conventional trailers, drivers have larger blind spots. These loads are also more susceptible to tipping or pushing the vehicle up or down hills at higher speeds. Course correction is also more challenging, as there’s more weight spread across a longer distance to consider, and load weights may be uneven.

All these factors make maneuvering oversized loads and seeing other drivers harder. Still, you don’t hear about oversized load crashes as much as other vehicles. That’s partly because these shipments are less common and because fleets approach them with greater care, given their higher risks.

How To Maneuver And Stabilize Oversized Loads

The relatively sparse record of oversized load crashes proves transporting these loads safely is more than possible. However, doing so requires special attention. Here are seven tips and techniques to keep in mind when maneuvering and stabilizing oversized loads.

Use The Right Equipment For The Job

Safely maneuvering oversized loads starts with using the right equipment. Your truck, trailer, and hitch must have the appropriate weight rating to carry the load in question safely. In some cases, that may require renting specialized equipment you don’t already have, as most conventional trailers can’t support these loads.

Your actual towing capacity is only as high as your lowest-rated component. If your truck has a manufacturer’s towing capacity of 15,000 pounds, but you have a Class IV hitch — which can only carry up to 10,000 pounds — you must abide by the 10,000-pound limit, not 15,000. Always err on the side of having more capacity than you think you need.

Load The Trailer Carefully

Next, take care when loading the trailer. Weight distribution matters just as much as the overall weight itself, as improper distribution can lead to fishtailing or other maneuvering problems. While you may not be able to break every oversized load into smaller pieces for better distribution, you can change how and where on the trailer you place it.

A good rule of thumb is to keep 60% of your load weight on the first half of your trailer, closest to the hitch. However, you should avoid overloading the front of the trailer, too. The tongue weight on your hitch should be just 10% to 15% of the trailer’s total weight, so placing too much up front could put excess stress on the hitch.

Plan Your Route In Advance

Route planning is another crucial part of maneuvering oversized loads. Look at possible routes in advance to find paths with the least amount of turns and hills, and with the most road space. You should also consider the state regulations that may change depending on your route.

If possible, plan to transport oversized loads with little to no chance of rain or other inclement weather. Roughly 21% of all vehicle crashes are weather-related, most of which happen in the rain or on wet pavement. Heavier, less stable loads make these risks even more dangerous, so drive in good conditions whenever possible.

Take It Slow

When you start driving, one of the most important tips to keep in mind is simply to go slow. That can be harder to stick to than it sounds, as you want to deliver the load on time. However, irritating it may be, speed quickly becomes deadly with enough weight behind you.

Oversized loads are often over 80,000 pounds. Considering most semis weigh between 10,000 and 25,000 pounds, that means you’ll have three to eight times as much force at a constant speed. Consequently, it can take three to eight times longer to come to a stop if you brake the same way and go the same speed. That’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t account for it, so stay safe and go slow.

Approach Turns With A Plan

Turning can be particularly tricky when stabilizing oversized loads. Because you have more weight and are more prone to tipping, you must turn slowly. Start braking well before a turn, as it’ll take longer to slow down than usual.

You’ll likely have to take up multiple lanes when making a turn. If other drivers are on the road, that’ll cause significant disruption, so you may have to stop completely until it’s clear. Depending on the situation, you may need pilot vehicles and pedestrian guides to stop traffic and help you through the turn.

Use A Pilot Vehicle

Many states also require one pilot vehicle to accompany oversized loads. At least 12 states also require certification for these vehicles and their drivers. Even if you’re driving in a state without these requirements, it’s a good idea to have an escort for safety’s sake.

Pilot vehicles can warn other drivers of your presence so they clear lanes or stay alert. They also can use wires to judge if any overpasses or other obstacles are too small for you to pass through, informing route changes. Drivers should stay in constant contact with their escorts to learn of any changing road conditions or traffic.

Keep An Eye On The Load

Finally, watch your trailer closely when maneuvering oversized loads. Inspect the trailer, the load itself, your hitch, and all your restraints before leaving and at every stop. If anything seems off, contact your fleet manager or escort for help.

While driving, pay attention to how the load feels. You may want to pull over and inspect it if there's excessive wiggling or rocking. Even if it turns out to be nothing, it’s better to be safe than sorry when dealing with loads this heavy.

Proper Training Is The Key To Safe Oversized Load Transport

Transporting oversized loads is dangerous, but that doesn’t mean it has to result in accidents. When you know the risks, you can take appropriate precautions to stay safe.

Following these seven tips will ensure drivers, escorts, and others on the road can travel with and by oversized loads without incident. You can then reap the benefits of delivering these shipments without worrying about safety or excess costs.

About The Author

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She regularly explores the impact technology has on the industrial sector.