How to move goods by road

Different road haulage vehicles


In the UK, with some exceptions, the maximum vehicle weight is 44 tonnes gross (truck, fuel and load) and has up to six sets of axles. Most foreign vehicles coming to the UK have two axles on the tractor and three on the trailer, which limits them to a weight of 40 tonnes both here and in their home state. The maximum individual truck length is 12 metres, articulated truck and trailer length is 16.5 metres and road trains are allowed up to 18.75 metres. The maximum width for all is 2.55 metres. If a vehicle has an overall height of 3 metres or above, a notice is required must be displayed in the cab showing its full height.

The main vehicles used to transport goods by road are Articulated Lorries (Artics). These consist of a tractor unit with a turn-table device which can be linked to a trailer. With or without a trailer, the Gross Combination Mass - the combined prime mover and trailer - must exceed 3.5 tonnes. Artics have different types of trailers, including:

  • Flatbed trailer - used for almost any kind of cargo, but goods need to be protected from the elements and theft.
  • Tilt trailer - like a flatbed trailer, but with a removable PVC canopy.
  • Curtain-sider - the mainstay of road haulage, this has a rigid roof and rear doors. The sides are PVC curtains that can be drawn back for easy loading.
  • Box trailer - an entirely rigid unit, with loading through back doors. A secure option for valuable goods.
  • Road train - a rigid vehicle at the front, which pulls a trailer behind it.
  • Swap-body system - built to accommodate standard cargo containers. Allows containers to be swiftly transferred during intermodal transport.
  • Low-loaders - often used for transporting heavy machinery and other outsize goods. Set low to the ground for easy loading.

Vans are frequently used to transport smaller cargoes shorter distances.

While goods are being transported, drivers are responsible for the security of goods and compliance with weight and similar restrictions. Traders are responsible for providing adequate dunnage (protective wrapping) to protect and stabilise the goods and for any damage caused to the vehicle while being loaded if they are the party actually loading the vehicle.