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Section 3: Transporting Cargo Safely

You must understand basic cargo safety rules to get a CDL. If you load cargo wrong or do not secure it, it can be a danger to others and to yourself. Loose cargo that falls off a vehicle can cause traffic problems and others could be hurt or killed. Loose cargo could hurt or kill you during a quick stop or crash. Your vehicle could be damaged by overload. Steering could be affected by how a vehicle is loaded, making it more difficult to control the vehicle.

Whether or not you load and secure the cargo yourself, you are responsible for:

  • Inspecting your cargo.
  • Recognizing overloads and poorly balanced weight.
  • Knowing your cargo is properly secured.

Test Your Knowledge

  • Common medicines for colds can make you sleepy. True or False?
  • What should you do if you do become sleepy while driving?
  • Coffee and a little fresh air will help a drinker sober up. True or False?
  • What is a hazardous materials placard?
  • Why are placards used?

Study sections 2.19 and 2.20 if you can't answer all of these questions.

If you intend to carry hazardous material that requires placards on your vehicle, you also are required to have a hazardous materials endorsement. Section 9 includes information necessary to pass the hazardous materials test.

3.1 Inspecting Cargo

As part of your pre-trip inspection , make sure the truck is not overloaded and that the cargo is balanced and secured properly. Inspect the cargo and its securing devices again within 25 miles after beginning a trip. Make any adjustments needed. Check the cargo and securing devices as often as necessary during a trip to keep the load secure. A good habit is to inspect again:

  • After you have driven for 3 hours or 150 miles.
  • After every break you take during driving.

Federal, state and local regulations of weight, securement, cover and truck routes vary greatly from place to place. Know the regulations of where you will be driving.

3.2 Weight and Balance

You are responsible for not being overloaded. Following are definitions of weights:

  • Gross vehicle weight (GVW) - Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load.
  • Gross combination weight (GCW) - Total weight of a powered unit plus trailer(s) plus the cargo.
  • Gross combination weight rating (GCWR) - Maximum GCW specified by the manufacturer for a specific combination of vehicles plus its load.
  • Axle weight - Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles.
  • Tire load - Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure. This rating is stated on the side of each tire.
  • Suspension systems - Suspension systems have a manufacturerʼs weight capacity rating.
  • Coupling device capacity - Coupling devices are rated for the maximum weight they can pull and/or carry.

Legal Weight Limits

You must keep weights within legal limits. States have maximums for GVWs, GCWs and axle weights. Often, maximum axle weights are set by a bridge formula, which permits less maximum axle weight for axles that are closer together. This is to prevent overloading bridges and roadways.

Overloading can have bad effects on steering, braking and speed control. Overloaded trucks must go very slow on upgrades. Worse, they may gain too much speed on downgrades. Stopping distance increases. Brakes can fail when forced to work too hard.

During bad weather, in mountains, or unique roadway conditions such as driving on gravel or sand may not be safe to operate at legal maximum weights. Take this into account before driving.

Do Not Be Top Heavy

The height of the vehicleʼs center of gravity is very important for safe handling. A high center of gravity (cargo piled up high or heavy cargo on top) means you are more likely to tip over. It is most dangerous in curves or if you have to swerve to avoid a hazard. It is very important to distribute the cargo so it is as low as possible. Put the heaviest parts of the cargo under the lightest parts.

Balance the Weight

Poor weight balance can make vehicle handling unsafe. Too much weight on the steering axle can cause hard steering and damage the steering axle and tires. Underloaded front axles (caused by shifting weight too far to the rear) can make the steering axle weight too light to steer safely. Too little weight on the driving axles can cause poor traction. The drive wheels may spin easily. During bad weather, the truck may not be able to keep going. Weight that is loaded so there is a high center of gravity causes greater chance of rollover. On flat bed vehicles, there is also a greater chance that the load will shift to the side or fall off. Figure 3-1 below shows examples of the right and wrong way to balance cargo weight.

Figure 3-1
Load Cargo Correctly

Test Your Knowledge

  1. For what three things related to cargo are drivers responsible?
  2. How often must you stop while on the road to check your cargo?
  3. How is gross combination weight rating different from gross combination weight?
  4. What can happen if you do not have enough weight on the front axle?

Study sections 3.1 and 3.2 if you can't answer all of these questions.

A question may be asked on the written exam about when to check your load securement after being loaded with freight. Remember that you should initially check the load after 25 miles.
You might be asked about this on the written exam. Make sure you know to stop after 3 hours or 150 miles (whichever comes first) in order to check the securement of your load. You should also check your load securement any time you stop to take a break.
You need to know all of the below definitions. They will come up multiple times during your training and will be referenced in real world conditions as well. So make sure you memorize all of the below terms as well as their definitions!
You may be asked about center of gravity on the written exam. You need to know that a higher center of gravity will cause your vehicle to tip over easier than a low center of gravity.
Here we see high center of gravity referenced again. You need to understand what a high center of gravity does (the higher the center of gravity, the more risk of a rollover.)

Pre-trip Inspection:

A pre-trip inspection is a thorough inspection of the truck completed before driving for the first time each day.

Federal and state laws require that drivers inspect their vehicles. Federal and state inspectors also may inspect your vehicles. If they judge a vehicle to be unsafe, they will put it “out of service” until it is repaired.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

GCWR:

Gross Combined Weight Rating

The GCWR refers to the total weight of a vehicle, including all trailers.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

Review Questions - Click On The Picture To Begin...

Drivers are responsible for the following, except:
  • Inspecting the cargo
  • Knowing cargo is properly secured
  • Recognizing overloads and poorly balanced weight
  • Knowing the exact product count inside the trailer

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Whether or not you load and secure the cargo yourself, you are responsible for:

  • Inspecting your cargo.
  • Recognizing overloads and poorly balanced weight.
  • Knowing your cargo is properly secured.
Next
Which of the following statements about weight balance is TRUE:
  • All of these answers are true
  • Too little weight on the driving axles can cause poor traction
  • Underloaded front axles can make the steering axle weight too light to steer safely
  • Too much weight on the steering axle can cause "hard steering"

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Poor weight balance can make vehicle handling unsafe. Too much weight on the steering axle can cause hard steering and damage the steering axle and tires. Under loaded front axles (caused by shifting weight too far to the rear) can make the steering axle weight too light to steer safely. Too little weight on the driving axles can cause poor traction. The drive wheels may spin easily. During bad weather, the truck may not be able to keep going. Weight that is loaded so there is a high center of gravity causes greater chance of rollover. On flat bed vehicles, there is also a greater chance that the load will shift to the side or fall off.

Prev
Next
What is axle weight?
  • Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure
  • None of these answers are correct
  • Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load
  • Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles

Quote From The CDL Manual:

You are responsible for not being overloaded. Following are definitions of weights:

  • Gross vehicle weight (GVW): Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load.
  • Gross combination weight (GCW): Total weight of a powered unit plus trailer(s) plus the cargo.
  • Gross combination weight rating (GCWR): Maximum GCW specified by the manufacturer for a specific combination of vehicles plus its load.
  • Axle weight: Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles.
  • Tire load: Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure. This rating is stated on the side of each tire.
  • Suspension systems: Suspension systems have a manufacturer's weight capacity rating.
  • Coupling device capacity: Coupling devices are rated for the maximum weight they can pull and/or carry.
Prev
Next
How often should you check your cargo to be sure it's properly secured?
  • Every 5 hours or 250 miles
  • Every 4 hours or 200 miles
  • Every 2 hours or 100 miles
  • Every 3 hours or 150 miles

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Check the cargo and securing devices as often as necessary during a trip to keep the load secure. A good habit is to inspect again:

  • After you have driven for 3 hours or 150 miles.
  • After every break you take during driving.
Prev
Next
What is gross combination weight rating (GCWR)?
  • Total weight of a powered unit
  • Maximum GCW specified by the manufacturer for a specific combination of vehicles plus its load
  • Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles
  • Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load

Quote From The CDL Manual:

You are responsible for not being overloaded. Following are definitions of weights:

  • Gross vehicle weight (GVW): Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load.
  • Gross combination weight (GCW): Total weight of a powered unit plus trailer(s) plus the cargo.
  • Gross combination weight rating (GCWR): Maximum GCW specified by the manufacturer for a specific combination of vehicles plus its load.
  • Axle weight: Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles.
  • Tire load: Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure. This rating is stated on the side of each tire.
  • Suspension systems: Suspension systems have a manufacturer's weight capacity rating.
  • Coupling device capacity: Coupling devices are rated for the maximum weight they can pull and/or carry.
Prev
Next
What is Gross Vehicle Weight (GVW)?
  • Total weight of a powered unit plus trailer(s) plus the cargo.
  • Maximum GCW specified by the manufacturer for a specific combination of vehicles plus its load.
  • Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load.
  • Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles.

Quote From The CDL Manual:

You are responsible for not being overloaded. Following are definitions of weights:

  • Gross vehicle weight (GVW): Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load.
  • Gross combination weight (GCW): Total weight of a powered unit plus trailer(s) plus the cargo.
  • Gross combination weight rating (GCWR): Maximum GCW specified by the manufacturer for a specific combination of vehicles plus its load.
  • Axle weight: Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles.
  • Tire load: Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure. This rating is stated on the side of each tire.
  • Suspension systems: Suspension systems have a manufacturer's weight capacity rating.
  • Coupling device capacity: Coupling devices are rated for the maximum weight they can pull and/or carry.
Prev
Next
Whether or not you load and secure cargo yourself, you are responsible for all except the following:
  • Drivers are responsible for all of these
  • Inspecting your cargo
  • Recognizing overloads and poorly balanced weight
  • Knowing your cargo is properly secured

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Whether or not you load and secure the cargo yourself, you are responsible for:

  • Inspecting your cargo.
  • Recognizing overloads and poorly balanced weight.
  • Knowing your cargo is properly secured.
Prev
Next
A truck with a higher center of gravity is:
  • More likely to tip over during a turn
  • More likely to gain traction in a snowstorm
  • Less difficult to maneuver when swerving around an obstruction
  • Less likely to tip over during a turn

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Do Not Be Top-Heavy - The height of the vehicle's center of gravity is very important for safe handling. A high center of gravity (cargo piled up high or heavy cargo on top) means you are more likely to tip over. It is most dangerous in curves or if you have to swerve to avoid a hazard. It is very important to distribute the cargo so it is as low as possible. Put the heaviest parts of the cargo under the lightest parts.

Prev
Next
What is a situation where legal maximum weights may not be safe?
  • Driving through mountains
  • All of these are situations where legal maximum weights may not be safe
  • Driving in poor weather conditions
  • Unique roadway conditions such as driving on gravel or sand

Quote From The CDL Manual:

During bad weather, in mountains, or unique roadway conditions such as driving on gravel or sand may not be safe to operate at legal maximum weights. Take this into account before driving.

Prev
Next
What is gross combination weight (GCW)?
  • Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure. This rating is stated on the side of each tire.
  • Total weight of a powered unit plus trailer(s) plus the cargo.
  • Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load.
  • Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles.

Quote From The CDL Manual:

You are responsible for not being overloaded. Following are definitions of weights:

  • Gross vehicle weight (GVW): Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load.
  • Gross combination weight (GCW): Total weight of a powered unit plus trailer(s) plus the cargo.
  • Gross combination weight rating (GCWR): Maximum GCW specified by the manufacturer for a specific combination of vehicles plus its load.
  • Axle weight: Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles.
  • Tire load: Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure. This rating is stated on the side of each tire.
  • Suspension systems: Suspension systems have a manufacturer's weight capacity rating.
  • Coupling device capacity: Coupling devices are rated for the maximum weight they can pull and/or carry.
Prev
Next
What can happen if you don't have enough weight on the front axle?
  • It can make the steering axle weight too light to steer safely
  • It can create unsafe traction on the drive tires
  • It can decrease stopping distance
  • It can cause steering to become more sensitive to inputs

Quote From The CDL Manual:

Underloaded front axles (caused by shifting weight too far to the rear) can make the steering axle weight too light to steer safely.

Prev
Next
What accurately defines the term "tire load"?
  • Light loads are often described as tire loads
  • Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure
  • Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles
  • Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load

Quote From The CDL Manual:

You are responsible for not being overloaded. Following are definitions of weights:

  • Gross vehicle weight (GVW): Total weight of a single vehicle plus its load.
  • Gross combination weight (GCW): Total weight of a powered unit plus trailer(s) plus the cargo.
  • Gross combination weight rating (GCWR): Maximum GCW specified by the manufacturer for a specific combination of vehicles plus its load.
  • Axle weight: Weight transmitted to the ground by one axle or one set of axles.
  • Tire load: Maximum safe weight a tire can carry at a specified pressure. This rating is stated on the side of each tire.
  • Suspension systems: Suspension systems have a manufacturer's weight capacity rating.
  • Coupling device capacity: Coupling devices are rated for the maximum weight they can pull and/or carry.
Prev
Finish
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