A Guide to Secure Trailer Loading in New Zealand

When you’re loading a trailer, ensuring safety should be your top priority. Proper loading techniques not only protect you, your trailer and load, but other road users too. Here’s a quick checklist to keep in mind when loading a trailer.

Drawbar Weight:

this refers to the downward force exerted on the vehicle’s towball by the loaded trailer. It is crucial to distribute some weight onto the drawbar to ensure stability while towing. This should vary according to the type of vehicle and its capability to bear weight, but ideally, the drawbar weight should be around 5-10% of the trailer's total weight. You can adjust the drawbar weight by redistributing the cargo or repositioning it within the trailer. Ensure the drawbar weight is within the manufacturer's recommendations and that it does not exceed the maximum towing capacity of your vehicle.

Load Over the Trailer Wheels:

Distributing the load evenly over the trailer wheels will help maintain balance and stability. Placing heavier items directly over the trailer's axle(s) helps avoid sway and ensures better control at highway speeds. It is crucial that loads behind the axles are carefully considered, and do not have the effect of taking the weight off the drawbar as noted above. This can cause instability and greatly increases the risk of jack-knifing.

Trailer and load dimensions:

Because we are discussing light trailers here, loading to the maximums allowed is not common, nor advisable unless the trailer has been designed specifically to do so. Max width including tie-downs and tyre bulge is 2.55m. Maximum length, including drawbar and load is 12.5m. Maximum height is 4.3m. Some special requirements are in place for these dimensions, including the fitting of marker lamps.

Protruding loads:

In New Zealand, the maximum a load can extend behind the rear axle centre is 4m, and loads more than 1m over the front or past the rear must have a hi-viz flag on them. For widths, anything protruding more than 200mm must also have a flag. Flags need to be placed where approaching traffic can easily see them, an be close to the extremity of the load protrusion. If you are close to the maximum dimensions, take the time to tie the load properly to prevent it from moving.

Tying Loads Down:

On average there are 5 “deemed serious” and one fatal accident per year in New Zealand caused by insecure loads. Securely fastening the load within the trailer is crucial to prevent it shifting or falling off during transport. Here are a few key points to remember when tying loads down:

  • Use high-quality, appropriately rated tie-down straps.
  • Ropes can be used, but for lighter, fragile and odd shaped loads only.
  • Distribute the tie-downs evenly and at multiple points to ensure stability.
  • On flat-deck trailers, tie loads with some tension towards the rear of the trailer so as to prevent movement forward during a sudden stop.
  • With loads that are not solid, stop regularly to adjust the tension of the tie-downs.
  • Avoid using tie-downs with frayed and damaged straps, or with ratchets that don’t lock securely.
  • When you have tied off a load using multiple straps, start from the first strap, and in the same order you tied the load off, pull on the each strap to check for looseness, and re-tighten if necessary.

Prevent items coming off your trailer.

Trailers experience unusual wind patterns at highway speeds, and lightweight items can easily be sucked up and out of them. Always remove or tie down these loose items, or put a mesh cover or tarpaulin over them.

When loads are comprised of items that can blow free, such as tree branches and garden waste, it is the responsibility of the trailer user to mitigate this with the use of nets and tarpaulins.

Remember, always be alert and be watching the load using your vehicle mirrors, straps may become loose and/or loads can shift while in travel. Accept the minor inconvenience of checking the load as you go rather than the major annoyance of waiting for a forklift or an enforcement officer to deal with a load no longer on your trailer.

This simple guide will significantly reduce the risk of accidents, protect your load, and ensure a safer journey on the road. Be aware of the rules that apply to you when towing, and follow manufacturer's recommendations.