If you’ve got a ute or trailer and you’re about to move some furniture, tools or even just a load of rubbish, its important that you secure your load properly for the safety of yourself and other drivers. This is something so easily done but many people simply don’t know how so below are some handy hints to make sure you get it right the first time.

Start with the basics

Before we go any further, its important to remember that a safe load starts with a safe vehicle. Before you start to load up, be sure you check the following:

  • Make sure your ute is safe and roadworthy. The same goes for your trailer if you have one
  • Check the tyre pressure and tread on all wheels
  • Make sure you have an appropriate spare wheel and ensure it is inflated
  • Make sure all of your rear lights and indicators are functional and can clearly be seen
  • Check that your number plate is securely attached and can be seen clearly
  • If you are towing a trailer, be sure to check the safety chain is in good, working order

Always plan for the worst

As you are checking your vehicle and securing the load, always make sure that you plan for the worst because you never know what might happen. “It will be fine like that, I will just go easy on the brakes” might sound like a great idea to save you time loading up but what happens if you need to brake suddenly in an emergency?

When it comes to trailers, people so often neglect to maintain the electrics and may drive with only one brake light or no tail lights at all thinking “its ok, I’ll only be gone a couple of hours and its daylight” but plans can change quickly and all it takes is a flat tyre for you to end up driving in the dark with no way to be seen from behind. This is extremely dangerous (not to mention illegal!).

Know your limits

Driving with a heavy load or trailer can be a daunting task for the unfamiliar. The only way to get comfortable with driving in these situations is experience so while there is no time like the present to get started, maybe that 5 Tonne dual-axle trailer is not the best place to start! No matter what your situation or experience though, it is always important to know your limits and remember that if you are really not comfortable with your load it may be time to repack or call a friend to lend a hand.

Something else to keep in mind is that all have a maximum load limit. Exceeding this limit may land you with an expensive fine and void your insurance but more importantly it will severely reduce the handling and braking capacity which could prove to be a lethal mix. The more weight you had to your load, the more distance you will need for braking and more unstable your load will be while cornering. Always make sure you check your vehicle handbook for this information before you begin.

Plan your load

Before you start loading up, its important to plan what you’re going to pack so you can be sure it is packed securely. Wherever possible, be sure follow the below tips:

Place light items on the bottom – heavy items on top will help to hold everything together
Try to keep the top of your load below the sides of your ute or trailer
If you do have taller items, place them towards the front of the ute and preferably in the centre. This way it can rest against the cab to keep it from moving forwards and, if it does fall backwards it won’t end up on the road.
Make sure you have sufficient padding to keep items from rubbing and bumping against each other and causing damage
Always overestimate with your ropes and straps. If they are damaged or frayed, throw them away and never use anything flimsy
Make sure nothing is hanging out the side of your vehicle or obstructing your number plate
If you are carrying something that extends more than 1.2m beyond the front or rear of your vehicle, this is considered to be a “Projecting Load” and you are legally required to display a warning device.

Warning Device

During the day – You must display a brightly coloured red, red and yellow, or yellow flag at least 450mm by 450mm and attach to the extreme back of the load

At night – You must display a red warning light that is visible from at least 200m away, OR at least two red reflectors capable of reflecting from the headlights of a following vehicle

At all times – All warning devices must be
– Displayed at the very end of your load; and
– Clearly visible to other people

For more information see this brochure from the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads.

Tie it Down!

So you’ve checked your vehicle and equipment, planned your load and got everything on board, its time to tie it all down. The most important thing to remember is that everything should be secured no matter how small or heavy. It might seem safe enough to throw that spare wheel on the tray of your ute but all it can take is a bump mid-corner for it to be thrown clear of the tray and straight onto the road. It might take an extra couple of minutes to tie it down but it is well worth the effort.

All utes and trailers have secure anchor points available, typically in the form of a rail down either side. Attach one end of your rope to one of these then run it over or around each item and tie it off against the anchor point on the other side – make sure it is tight!

If you are unsure how to tie a good, reliable knot then it is definitely worth the time doing a bit of research, you never know when they might come in handy. Alternatively you may want to invest in some ratchet straps. They generally have a hook at each end so you can attach it securely to each anchor point then just keep moving the ratchet until tight. Nice, safe and simple.

During your drive there will be a lot more movement in the tray than you probably realise. Its always a great idea to stop and check your load after 10 minutes or so to make sure that your ropes haven’t loosened and everything is still secure.

If you’re moving a lot of small items like garden clippings and general rubbish then a tarp and/or cargo net are a must. Not only do they hold everything in easily but, if you use them together it will take no more than a few minutes

Drive safely!

Now that you’ve got your load secured its time to hit the road. Just remember that you must always drive to the conditions. If you’ve got tall items on board, be very cautious when cornering and be aware of your height when entering driveways and passing under bridges.

You must also take your added weight into account when it comes to braking. It is a simple fact that the heavier your vehicle, the longer it will take you to stop so you must begin braking earlier and remember to leave a larger gap between you and the car in front, especially if you’re driving in the rain.

What if something does fall?

If something does happen to come lose and ends up on the road, it is important to retrieve it as quickly as you can but only if safe and practical. If you’re on a quiet road or in a low speed area, park a short distance behind the item with your hazard lights on. This will make you more visible to other drivers and gives you some protection from other vehicles.

If something should fall in a high speed area like a highway then you first need to consider if it is practical to go back and pick it up straight away. If it was something small and innocuous like a coke can or some paper then the best thing you can do is keep driving. It will not obstruct other drivers and is not worth the risk to go back for.

If it is something that may cause a danger to others and the road is busy, you should call the Transport and Main Roads traffic report hotline on 13 19 40 and they will take care of it for you and advise of the best course of action.

Loading up your ute or trailer doesn’t have to be a stressful experience. If you follow these simple steps and use a bit of common sense you will be well on your way to a safe and secure drive. Good luck!