November 17, 2022
There are many different terms in trucking that you might think are interchangeable. Two of those terms are wide load and oversize load.

While these two terms may sound the same, there are slight differences between the two that are very important for both trucking companies and shippers alike to understand.

Wide loads and oversize loads both come into play any time the products that are being shipped can't fit into the standard-size shipping containers. While those containers can typically handle most of what is being shipped across the country, there are some items that simply are too big to fit.

This necessitates a different type of trucking, which could be either a wide load or oversize load. Let's dive deeper into what these two types of trucking are so that you can understand what you might have to do for these types of deliveries.

Understanding Shipping Dimensions

The first thing to understand about trucking is that each state in the country sets specific shipping dimensions that standard trucks cannot exceed. Generally speaking, though, all standard loads can be up to 8.5 feet high, 53 feet in length and 8.5 feet in width. They also must not exceed 46,000 total pounds.
Most trucks will spend a majority of their time on the road on interstate and state highways. The standard width for these lanes is 12 feet, which is important in determining whether you are carrying a standard load or a special one -- as we'll detail in the next two sections.

Oversize Load Definition

When you're comparing a wide load vs an oversize load, you must know that all wide loads are considered oversized loads, but the same isn't true the other way around. In other words, a shipment can be considered an oversize load but not a wide load.

By definition, an oversize load is a shipment that exceeds any of the standard shipping dimensions outlined in the previous section. If only one of the above parameters is exceeded, then the shipment is considered an oversize load. That means that if it's higher than 8.5 feet, longer than 53 feet, wider than 8.5 feet or heavier than 46,000 pounds, it will be considered an oversize load.

Wide Load Definition

A wide load is a basically an oversize load that exceeds the width requirement of the standard shipping dimensions. A shipment can exceed all of the other dimensions set out above, but it will only be considered a wide load if it's wider than 8.5 feet.

Again, the reason for this is that standard highway lanes are 12 feet wide. Any shipment that is wider than 8.5 feet will be more dangerous to drive, and they'll also be more dangerous for other vehicles on the road.

It's possible that wide loads may require a pilot vehicle to travel along with the wide load to pay attention to any issues or obstacles that may appear on the route.

If the shipment exceeds 16 feet in width, it will be considered a super load. For this type of shipment to go on the road, it's likely that road closures will need to happen, and it's even possible that a police escort might be necessary. This is because the materials being carried here are very likely to impede on other traffic on the road.

Preparations Necessary for Wide Loads and Oversize Loads

If you are traveling with a wide load or an oversize load, it's very important to make necessary preparations before you even hit the road. You'll need to know where you're going, what the specific state laws are for the route and what you'll need to do to make sure everything is safe and up to standards.
Here are some of the things that you may need to consider.


You likely will have to have extra signage on your trucks any time you're carrying an oversize or wide load. This will notify the other drivers on the road of the fact that you are exceeding some of the standard requirements of the road, and that they need to be extra careful when driving around you.
You could be pulled over and cited with a fine if you do not have the proper signage.


Again, each state sets its own requirements for the standard shipping dimensions. Along the same lines, each individual state will set its own requirements for what permits are needed, if any, for wide and oversize loads.

The Department of Transportation in each state will know what these permit requirements are, and what you have to do to obtain these permits. It's possible, though, that you may only need to obtain the proper permits with the U.S. Department of Transportation if your shipment will only be on an interstate highway through some states.
That being said, it's always advisable to confer with the individual state DOT's to make sure you're meeting all the permitting requirements along your route.


Oversize and wide loads can have a significant effect on traffic, which is why states have certain extra requirements on these types of shipments. One of those requirements is when oversize and wide loads are allowed to be on the road.

Many states will require these loads to travel during the day, to minimize the effect on traffic and to reduce the risks of the shipments. It's also possible that these shipments will only be able to travel as much as 30 minutes prior to sunrise and 30 minutes following sunset.
Because of these scheduling constraints, it's important to pay extra attention when you're planning your route.


A final consideration is what extra safety measures need to be taken to secure the loads. Some of these loads may need to be tied down with extra straps or secured to the truck bed better.

Trucking companies need to pay special attention to proper safety and security measures that can be taken in advance to make sure that the shipment doesn't shift or move in any way while on the road.

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