February 9, 2023
Trucking is a major industry in the United States, and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, the industry is expected to grow in the coming years, with a sizeable portion of the loads being transported considered in the overweight category.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that, every year, the total amount of freight that’s transported by trucking in the U.S. exceeds 10 billion tons. Of that total, 6% were in the oversize category.
Wide loads are challenging to handle for both trucking operators and highway safety divisions. These loads are more dangerous to haul, since they may exceed typical size and weight requirements of traditional trucking loads.

To help provide extra safety measures, states throughout the U.S. put specific regulations in place. All of these regulations can be found on the Federal Highway Administration’s website.

Below, we give a general synopsis of what constitutes a wide load as well as the regulations that states put in place for trucks that fit into this category.

What Constitutes a Wide Load?

A wide load is any trucking load that exceeds maximum width, length or height requirements set out by the state in which you are traveling. While these requirements can vary from state to state, the generally accepted standard is 8.5 feet wide. The reason for this is that the width of a travel lane on interstate and other major highways is standard at 12 feet wide.

The acceptable height and length of standard loads can vary greatly from state to state, so make sure to check each state’s regulations if you think your load may exceed the limits.

Therefore, any load that is wider than 8.5 feet will automatically be termed a wide load or oversized load, and be subject to additional regulations. When the load exceeds 12 feet but is less than 14 feet, many states will put additional restrictions and requirements in. And any load that is greater than 16 feet wide will be termed a “superload,” subject to significant extra requirements to ensure property safety.

What Permits Are Required for a Wide Load?

The specific steps you must take if you have a wide load will vary from state to state. Generally speaking, though, you’ll need to obtain a special permit to travel on any public highway within the state. If you’re traveling across multiple states, you’ll need to ensure you obtain the proper permit for each state.

There will be a fee associated with the permit, which could range from $15 to about $70 for a basic load. The price of the permit will depend on what you are transporting. Some states also charge a processing fee to issue the permit.

Trucking companies that transport wide loads often can obtain permits that will cover them for multiple loads of the same general type, in addition to the single-haul permits that are available. Some states even make available annual permits for this type of load.

It’s also possible in some states to set up an account to help streamline the process of applying for and obtaining a wide load permit, if your company will transport them frequently within that state.

What Signage is Required for a Wide Load?

In addition to obtaining a permit, most states will require trucks transporting wide loads to notify other drivers on the road with proper signage. Most states require such a vehicle to have a banner or sign on the front and back of the truck that says “Oversize Load” or “Wide Load” in big letters, and be yellow and black. This warns other drivers on the road that the truck may exceed the typical width of the standard highway lane.

You also will likely be required to put 18-inch square warning flags that are either fluorescent orange or red attached to the corners of the load in both the front and back. Such flags also have to be put on any part of the load that extends outside the corners of the vehicle itself.

Those states that allow wide loads to travel on the road at night usually require red or amber lights to be placed near these flags as well. This lighting may also be required during reduced visibility conditions such as when it’s raining or foggy.

Are Escort Vehicles Required for a Wide Load?

Whether an escort vehicle is required with a wide load depends on the state. Many states don’t require an escort vehicle if the load doesn’t exceed 10 feet in width, while others will require such a vehicle for all wide loads.

Where the escort vehicles are required, whether there needs to be one in front, or one in front and back, depends on the state and the type of load. Some states also put escort vehicle requirements in place for wide loads that are going to be traveling at night.

These escort vehicles typically only operate within one state. So, if you’re transporting a wide load through two states and require an escort vehicle in both, for instance, you may be dropped off at the border by one set of escort vehicles and joined by another.

If your vehicle qualifies as a superload, you may also be required to have an escort vehicle from a law enforcement agency or a security personnel vehicle with proper qualifications.

Are There Other Travel Restrictions for a Wide Load?

The allowable times when wide loads can travel on the road vary greatly from one state to the next. Most will put at least some restrictions in place in regard to when it’s daytime. General restrictions might include providing extra flashers or reflectors if traveling at night, or being restricted to only certain times of night when traffic is lighter. Some states ban travel at night altogether for certain wide loads.

In addition to limitations in place for daylight hours, states may also put restrictions in place for wide loads traveling on weekends or holidays. This could include legal federal holidays as well as local state holidays.

These time restrictions are set to ensure that wide loads aren’t on the road when traffic is expected to be heavy.
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