How to make sure your load is secure when driving


Every day, thousands of objects fall from trailers, roof racks and pickup trucks onto our roads. They represent millions of dollars of lost items, they cause litter and pollution and create a hazard for other road users. Ensuring your load is secured is something that we don’t get taught when we learn to drive, but it’s something that a great many drivers will do at one time or another. You can do load security training online or with a trainer.

There are four locations to carry items in or on your light vehicle (i.e. we’re not talking large trucks):

  1. On or in a trailer
  2. On a roof rack
  3. In your car or van
  4. On or in the tray of a pickup truck

There are four methods of load restraint:

  1. If the load is contained, this means it is prevented from moving by walls, for example, it’s in the back of a van or in an enclosed trailer. This doesn’t mean it’s secured, though, as a heavy load which is free to roll around can break through walls and doors. Contained loads also include liquids in a tanker
  2. If the load is lashed, this means it’s prevented from moving by some kind of lashing such as webbing straps, chains or ropes, for example, it’s on a roof rack. In this case, the rated capacity of the restraining devices should be more than the forces acting on the load. For example, if a load creates a force of 300kg under braking, all the lashings must have a breaking force that exceeds 300kg, otherwise the load will snap the lashings and break free.
  3. If the load is blocked, it means that it is prevented from moving because it’s against another object
  4. If the load is locked, it means it’s prevented from moving by a specific attachment, for example, some roof racks have key locks to prevent custom roof boxes from moving.


A box trailer is fully enclosed. While these provide great weather protection, the walls are weak, so anything in the trailer must be either lashed or blocked to stop it from moving. 

A flat deck trailer is a simple deck, mostly of wood and metal, sometimes with short sides. Items must be lashed, unless you’re carrying loose stones or sand, in which case it must have a cover.

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A cage trailer is a flat deck trailer with tall caged sides. Items may or may not need to be secured, depending on the likelihood of them being affected by the wind.

With a trailer, it’s best to carry 6-8 ratchet straps to give you options for securing different parts of the load. If you’re carrying machinery on a flat deck trailer, you could opt for chains. If you’re carrying scrap metal, the sharp edges will cut through webbing straps, so chains are the best option.

Roof racks

Roof racks are made of light metal such as aluminium. They have minimal friction so, unless you are carrying items in a custom box which is locked to the roof rack, you must lash items. Ratchet straps are a much better solution than ropes which are hard to get tight. Be cautious carrying metal items like ladders on a roof rack; they have very little friction and need to be carefully lashed.

Cars and vans

When carrying items in a car, don’t put them where they will fly forwards and become a missile under braking. The boot is the best place, or down low behind the driver or passenger seats. A car boot usually has at least 4 lashing eyes you can use if you need to restrain something heavy in the boot, but don’t use shopping bag hooks as they have very little strength.

When carrying items in a van, block them against the headboard or lash them using ratchet straps through the lashing eyes (vans usually have at least 6 of these).

Pickup truck tray

Items on the tray of a pickup truck must be restrained. If it’s a wellside pickup, there are side walls and a tailgate, but these aren’t very high and things can still fly out unless you have a hard cover. If it’s a flat deck pickup truck, treat it like a trailer. There are usually lashing eyes in a wellside ute and there will be rope rails on a flat deck ute.

What lashings do you need?

The minimum number of lashings for a single item is two. If the item twists in transit, it can work its way loose, and the longer the item, the more this is likely to happen.

What do you need to consider for the load?

  • The load restraint must be able to overcome the forces created on the load during cornering, braking and accelerating. The idea is for the load to function as part of the vehicle as opposed to being able to move separately. 
  • The load must be carried within the maximum height, length and width of the vehicle
  • The load must not drag on the ground.
  • You must use load restraints that don’t damage the load, e.g. it’s easy to crush a load using incorrect techniques, overtightening ratchet straps or chains, or placing heavy items where they’ll crush lighter items.
  • Ensure loads can’t blow away - use nets or tarpaulins to stop this, but be aware that a net or tarpaulin is not a good way to restrain the weight of the load because they are not strong enough.
  • There may be minimum legal requirements in your country for how much load restraint you need in relation to the weight of the load.
  • Finally, ensure that you don’t overload the vehicle - check the owner’s manual for the maximum axle weights.

Over 200,000 crashes a year in America and 22,000 crashes a year in the UK are with debris that has fallen from a vehicle. There are countless more flat tyres and minor damage that goes unreported. This causes several hundred fatalities just in those two countries alone. Don’t be the person responsible for causing someone to lose their life needlessly. Ensure your load is secure.