The long and short of it is – size does matter! To determine if the freight you are hauling qualifies as oversize (i.e., overweight or over-dimension), you must have accurate measurements of the weight and dimensions of the freight. Having accurate measurements will help you secure the correct equipment and necessary permits that are required to legally transport the freight.
Let’s size things up by looking at a few key considerations that will help you find out if your freight qualifies as oversize.
Any freight exceeding 8 feet 6 inches wide requires oversize permits.
Height requirements vary by state. Most total height restrictions range from 13 feet 6 inches to 14 feet. Step decks and lowboys are specialized trailers that are designed to allow carriers to haul freight that is too tall to fit on standard flatbeds. A step deck, for example, allows 10 feet for the height of the freight as opposed to only 8 feet 6 inches on a standard flatbed. For specific height limits, consult state-specific guidelines and height restrictions.
Generally speaking, when the total load and trailer length exceeds 53 feet, or the total truck, trailer and load length exceeds 65 feet from end to end, then permitting is usually required. Some states spell out 53 feet for trailer and load (48 flatbed + 5 overhang = 53 feet), but may choose to defer to the US DOT for minimum limit of overhang being four feet from the rear. Some states allow for additional overhang or longer overhang than the minimum (e.g., 5 feet, 6 feet, 7 feet). It's best to not expect any rear overhang on a 53-foot trailer without needing an oversize permit. Again, states vary on this (right, Wyoming?), so always check with the state.
Most states will require an oversize permit when the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) is over 80,000 lbs or 20,000 lbs per single axle. Gross vehicle weight rating is the total weight of the power unit, trailer, and freight. But, again, this varies state by state. As an example, the weight capacity of a standard flatbed is 48,000 pounds, so anything exceeding this would likely qualify as overweight.
The route you plan to take may be requested or required. Pay close attention to underpasses, bridges, heavy traffic periods, cities, road conditions, and more. Note all permissible weights and heights. Make sure there is adequate spacing between axle groups to distribute the weight properly (roads and bridges will thank you).
What are common types of oversize loads?
- Heavy Equipment + Machinery
- Larger Steel Tubes, Pipes, Beams + Structural Steel
- Various sizes of tanks and containers
- Manufacturing equipment
- Turbines + Turbine Blades
- Hay (round bales) and Timber
This is not an exhaustive list, but rather a few examples that provide a starting point for understanding haul capacity or taking measurements of heavier shipments.
What are some of the dangers of hauling oversize loads that drivers should be aware of?
Trucks hauling oversized loads are at a higher risk of causing accidents on the road because of unbalanced loads that can cause the truck’s center of gravity to shift unexpectedly and affect the driver’s ability to control the vehicle. Sudden shifts can cause the truck and trailer to overturn. It is important to understand where the load’s center of gravity is located. Excessive weight on the truck’s axles and wheels can cause tires to blow. Unsecured loads can fall from the trailer into traffic. With the amount of risk and danger involved in hauling oversized loads, trucking businesses and even the most skilled drivers need to use extreme caution and care when getting the job done.
When are permits required?
Temporary permits are required if you are hauling an oversized load, a super load, or any other load that is outside standard shipping size limits. These temporary permits enable transportation of a shipment based on the dimensions of the freight or cargo and the total weight of the vehicle, trailer, freight, etc. State permits are required for interstate routes, while local routes will require local approval for oversize freight traveling through certain cities, counties, or townships.
When freight exceeds dimension or weight limits set by the states they are traveling through, permits from EACH state’s DOT or permit regulatory agency are required in order to transport the freight through those jurisdictions legally. Securing permits is typically the responsibility of the carrier, meaning the carrier will have to contact the relevant agencies prior to transporting the oversize load. As mentioned above, the permit process includes recording attributes of loads such as:
Weight of the vehicle and equipment
Weight distribution over axles
Dimensions of the cargo or freight
Planned route (note that states like Texas have route requirements for oversized loads)
There are some important facts and rules regarding oversize permits that carriers should understand before applying for permits. A few are listed below:
Permits are required for oversized non-divisible loads. A “non-divisible load” is any load that cannot be separated into units of less length or weight without 1) compromising the use of the vehicle transporting the load, 2) affecting the value or physical integrity of the load that would render it unusable, or 3) requiring more than 8 hours to the separate the load into divisible pieces.
Permits cannot be used on loads that can be easily divided into separate loads (“divisible loads”). The items must be shipped separately. As an example, 2 items weighing 40,000 pounds and 25,000 pounds each cannot be loaded onto the same trailer for a shipment. A permit cannot be used to transport this oversize load. These items are divisible and can be separated into standard legal loads.
Permit costs vary from state to state
Permits are non-refundable and only valid for a specified period of time. If a load is delayed, canceled, or is in transit longer than the specified expiration date a carrier will need to reorder the permit
Permits for oversized loads include routing guidelines, travel regulations or restrictions, and safety standards
What kind of equipment is needed for hauling oversize shipments?
The equipment needed to transport oversize shipments depends directly on the size of the freight. Common trailer types used for oversize freight include step deck, removable gooseneck, double drop and lowboy (low-load, low-bed, float) trailers, which help keep a shipment below the standard height restriction of 13 feet 6 inches in most states and offer greater weight capacity with additional axles. For a more detailed list of equipment options, check out Soshaul’s blog on trailer types. It is important to be accurate when measuring weight and dimensions to ensure that you pair the proper equipment needed to haul a shipment. Misjudging freight dimensions or not utilizing proper equipment can result in delays that can be costly to your trucking operation. As you prepare for transporting the oversize load, take extra care when inspecting your vehicle and equipment, making sure everything is in safe, working order and ready to go.
Oversize loads will typically require special oversize load banners on the front and rear of any load, red load flags on each corner and side of the load, magnetic flag holders, and flashing or rotating amber lights (beacons) at the rear of the oversize load. Other items to have include measuring tape, measuring pole, road flares/LEDs, reflective stop/slow paddle signs, reflective triangles, reflective safety clothing, fire extinguisher, first aid kit, hard hat, CB, flashlight, and spare batteries. Always check the State requirements! Additional equipment, such as extra straps and tarps, may be necessary for sufficient load securement. Forklifts and/or cranes may be needed for loading and unloading. And don’t go anywhere in this world without having an abundance of duct tape and zip ties on hand.
How are permit fees calculated?
Calculating oversize shipment permit fees depends on the dimensions and weight of the load and the type of vehicle used to haul the load. Permit fees are based primarily on the total weight of the shipment and the number of axles on the vehicle, although some states may also consider the miles, time of day, and route that is taken. To get more accurate information on how a permit fee is calculated, you should research the rules and regulations in each state on your route to ensure that you comply with the laws in place. Always check with the state or jurisdiction. Rules and regulations are subject to change (blogs, not so much).
How do I pull an oversize or over-dimensional permit?
There are 3 steps that need to be followed when trying to obtain oversize permits.
Step 1: Plan your route
Before beginning the application process, it is important to plan the best route for your trip. Examine things closely at a road-by-road level. There are a variety of obstacles and delays that you could encounter if you don’t properly plan your route. Any obstacles or delays, such as unanticipated construction or curfews, can be costly. For lengthy interstate routes, don’t forget about making plans for refueling along the way. You don’t want to be surprised to find that the nearest fueling station is off your designated route. Different states and regions (cities, counties) will have different requirements for hauling oversize loads and therefore different permit costs. The jurisdiction may plan part or all of your route. You want a carefully planned route to minimize the risk of incurring any delays and additional costs. Planning routes will help you avoid any obstacles or delays and ensure you get all the necessary permits before you start your trip.
Step 2: Identify Required Permits
Based on your planned routes from step one, you can identify the necessary permit types. Most oversize loads will require one or more of the following permit types:
City- or Township-level permits
It all boils down to which entity or institution owns and manages (sweeps, plows, repairs) the roads that the load will be traveling on. City permits are likely going to be required for major metropolitan pick up or deliveries, whereas State permits are needed if your route has you using the interstate highway system.
Step 3: Obtain needed permits
After planning your optimal route and identifying all of the needed permits, the last thing you need to do is obtain the permits. There are two different approaches you can take when getting your oversize permits – Direct or Indirect. You can obtain them directly from the regulatory agency or institution, or you can obtain them indirectly using a permit service company. If you seek permits directly from a particular state or city, for example, you will usually have to set up an account with each entity. This might require you to have proper insurance and/or bond for the oversize permit. Once things are set up, then the process of obtaining future permits will be much easier. The other alternative is to work with permit service companies that are experts in this area. They can get you set up for a modest fee.
What information is typically needed when applying for a permit?
For the process to go smoothly, and to receive the correct pricing for permits, you’ll need to provide several details which may include (but is not limited to):
DOT number and MC number (if interstate)
Truck and trailer types,
Make, model, serial numbers, vehicle identification numbers, license plate numbers, state registration,
Axles and spacing distance,
Descriptions of all freight, including exact length, width, height, and weight,
Origin and Destination,
Transportation dates, and
Insurance and surety bond (latter may or may not be required)
How long does it take to receive a permit?
The time it takes to obtain a permit can depend on various factors, but if you have an active account with the regulatory agency (states, county, city), then the turnaround can be a couple of hours to only a couple of minutes, particularly when an automated permit system is available. Some super loads might take several hours, possibly several days, to obtain permits because it requires a more extensive review process that involves things like road and bridge engineering, construction restrictions, and route surveys. More impressive super loads can take up to six weeks to secure oversize permits.
What are the costs for applying for oversize permits?
Fees for applying for oversize permits depend on the state permit you are applying for. Typically, fees range from $10 for single-trip oversized shipments to around $500 to obtain a permit for super loads. Some states have the option to pay for monthly or yearly permits as well, which is useful for carriers consistently hauling heavy freight throughout the year.
Soshaul’s dedicated permit webpage and reference sheet are useful tools that can be used to access each state’s website which will have specific information about applying for permits and permit fees.
What are the penalties for not having the proper permit?
There are serious fines for not having the proper permits when hauling oversize shipments. These fees vary state by state depending on the regulations in place. Michigan, for example, has civil fines of up to $500 for owners-operators or drivers that do not have the proper permit to haul an oversized load. Then there are fines per axle and for every pound overweight for any misload. These can reach hundreds, even thousands, of dollars rather quickly. Court costs will vary but they're not to be ignored. The resulting penalties and damages, especially if there is damage to a structure or someone is injured in an accident, can put a company out of business.
TIP: Don’t forget to obtain the right insurance for the job. The consequences of not having the right insurance in an accident can be catastrophic for any new or existing trucking business. Some states, like Texas, may require the load and trip to be covered by a permit surety bond before a permit is issued. This type of bond can cost around $100.
What are pilot cars and escort vehicles? What are some common escort requirements?
In oversize trucking, pilot cars (also known as escort vehicles or pilot escorts) play a critical role in ensuring the safe transportation of large and oversized loads. These vehicles are used to accompany and guide the oversize vehicle and load along the designated route. The pilot/escort vehicle operators (P/EVO) survey the route for any risks or potential issues. They look at what's ahead and what’s coming from behind and make the truck driver aware of any issues, including things like heavy traffic, construction, low-hanging objects (wires, signals, lamps), exits, turns, and so on. Their presence makes other drivers aware of the oversized load. The pilot car operator or team is also there to assist with lane changes and direct traffic when necessary. The presence of pilot escort vehicles helps to address the unique challenges and potential hazards associated with transporting oversized and heavy loads on public roads.
Oversize loads can be classified into three levels or tiers based on requirements for safety, level of difficulty, and need:
Level 1 or Tier 1
No pilot escort required; only permits are needed.
Level 2 or Tier 2
Permit(s) required, along with one pilot escort who alerts others of the presence of a nearby oversized load and travels ahead to identify potential hazards and obstacles.
Level 3 or Tier 3
Permit(s) required, along with multiple pilot escorts traveling in front of and behind, lead car and chase car, what can be described as more complicated loads, also known as “Super Loads.”
The fees for pilot cars vary depending on a variety of things such as the size of the shipment, length of trip, availability of pilot cars in origin and destination locations, and even weather. Considering all these factors, you can expect to pay anywhere between an additional $1.50 to $3.00 per mile for pilot cars escorting oversize shipments. These are estimates from the time of writing this. You should also consider the pilot car’s fee schedule for any downtime or wait time which will have additional costs as well.
Also, make sure the pilot/escort vehicle operator is certified to operate in the states the load must travel, a dozen states (e.g., NY, NC, GA, FL) require certification. Make sure the service is properly insured (e.g., $1,000,000 coverage for commercial auto, general liability, errors and omissions). It doesn’t hurt to double check your own insurance.
In summary, an oversize load permit is required for practically any non-divisible load that exceeds the legal size or weight limits set by the institutions with jurisdiction over state or local roadways that the oversize load must travel on. Generally speaking, if the total length of the trailered load is over 53 feet, the total height is over 13 feet 6 inches, the total width is over 8 feet 6 inches, or the total gross vehicle weight is over 80,000 pounds, then an oversize load permit is in your future.
Calculating and applying for oversize load permits may seem like a daunting task, but it is critical that drivers, owner-operators or trucking business owners plan accordingly and do sufficient research on state and local requirements before they try to pull permits and haul an oversize load. It's equally critical that you have the right equipment for the job. The dangers are absolutely too severe to ignore. Planning helps minimize risks as well as reduce and avoid costs. Hauling an oversize load is no easy task. Having the proper permits and equipment ensures that the load can stick to the planned route and reach its destination safely.
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Soshaul Logistics LLC and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. It is meant to serve as a guide and information only and Soshaul Logistics, LLC does not assume responsibility for any omissions, errors, or ambiguity contained herein. Contents may not be relied upon as a substitute for the FMCSA's published regulations. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction or operation.