Load Securing: Transporting Cargo Safely

Author: Michael Vogel

Jun 26, 2024 Safety on the road / Transport & Traffic / EU regulations

Load securing plays a key role in road safety. Over the past two decades, there has been a lot of progress on Europe's roads in terms of safely transporting heavy cargo.

Picture the following: An inconsiderately loaded van with furniture in the back, including a washing machine. When it hits the tail end of a traffic jam at a speed of 56 kilometers per hour, the furniture is flung forward so vehemently that the passenger, who would have been hit by the washing machine from behind, would have had no chance of survival. Fortunately, this scenario was merely a demonstration as part of the DEKRA Safety Day 2017 in Bielefeld - but the dangers illustrated are very real: incorrectly secured loads can be dangerous, if not life-threatening.

Number of accidents caused by poorly secured loads drops

"During relevant traffic checks, a common mistake that comes up again and again is that the freight transported is only held by the vehicle body and has no additional securing, even though that would be necessary," says Martin Kugele, accident analyst specialized in load securing at DEKRA. The DEKRA expert is reluctant to speculate on the reasons for such errors and their frequency as "there are few statistics available". The good news is that over the past two decades, improved legal requirements, technical developments, relevant training and increasing awareness have helped to reduce the number of accidents caused by insufficiently secured loads. "According to the German Federal Statistical Office, the number of such accidents involving passenger injury in Germany, for example, has only been in the low hundreds over the years," says Kugele. Official numbers for Europe are quite old, published in 2010 by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA) with reference to national bodies:
According to the report, the Austrian Road Safety Board discovered in the 2000s it was mainly small trucks that were involved in accidents caused by inadequate load securing. In addition, 40 percent of all trucks had inadequate, improper or no securing. Around 70 percent of professional truck and bus drivers have never been trained in load securing. At the time, EU-OSHA quoted the German Road Safety Council with a figure of around 2,300 trucks involved in accidents in Germany every year due to inadequate or improper load securing.

Improved load securing over the last 20 years

Considerable steps have been taken since then. Kugele believes that the introduction of European standards EN 12642 and EN 12195 have been decisive steps towards improved load securing over the past two decades. The former regulates the sturdiness of vehicle superstructures, the latter the proper securing of freight.
"As part of EN 12642, the regulations for vehicle superstructures were then significantly reinforced in 2007 and 2017 so that certain loads can be safely transported without additional securing," says Kugele. But even these reinforced superstructures cannot hold just any load without additional securing. Truck checks conducted by the police and authorities also contribute to increased safety, which are routinely carried out in countries such as Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.
DEKRA experts assess load securing within the scope of such truck inspections, and in some cases they draw up expert reports afterwards - either for vehicles that are objectionable or for accident vehicles. "We also advise transport companies and shippers on load securing and examine whether vehicle superstructures are suitable in advance, to give just one example," says Kugele. By carrying out practical tests, DEKRA offers comprehensive support in optimizing vehicles as well as methods and tools for securing loads. A support axis for a semi-trailer is also available here - support wheels for the truck, so to speak. "This allows us to carry out dynamic driving tests under extreme conditions," explains Kugele. "We have already been able to make a significant contribution to the development of standards with such tests."

Properly securing and distributing loads

When trucks accelerate, brake or make a turn, there are forces at work that can shift the load. VDI guideline 2700 stipulates that load securing must ensure that the load can hold 0.8 times its weight when braking. When accelerating and cornering, it must support 0.5 times the weight of the load.
Load distribution also plays a key role in road safety. If the load is too far in the rear of a semi-trailer, for example, the tractor unit can no longer develop sufficient braking power because the tires on its rear axis no longer have maximum grip. As a result, the truck can jackknife. If the load on a conventional truck is too far back, the front axis is unloaded so much that the steering can be impaired. To avoid this, a load distribution plan helps, "which is actually supplied by the manufacturers of the superstructures on delivery," says Kugele. However, in Europe it is not legally binding to follow the load distribution plan.
Incidentally, the issue of load securing is not just for professionals, as the example of the DEKRA Safety Day shows. The guidelines on load securing also apply to private journeys: for example, when moving house or travelling home from the furniture or hardware store. Even if no checks are carried out, it is important to protect yourself and your passengers from unsecured load items.