Legal limits for flatbed loads
In general, the maximum legal load width is 8.5 feet (102 inches), and the maximum height limit is also 102 inches. Legal length is typically 48 to 53 feet, and the maximum weight is about 46,000 pounds. Some trucks may be able to scale heavier, but 46,000 pounds is usually the standard.
For specific regulations, consult each state’s transportation department. Click for a directory of state transportation websites.
Find out if your load is oversized
Weight restrictions are applied on a per axle basis. A shipment might not exceed the total weight limit, but it may exceed the per-axle limits. In this case, simply adjusting the load can make the shipment legal and eliminate the need for special permits.
The more common measurement that pushes shipments into the “oversize” category is width. Anything over 8.5 feet wide is considered oversized load; shipments exceeding 12 feet wide may require one to two pilot vehicles in the front and/or back of the flatbed truck.
Just remember, flatbed drivers are responsible for obtaining the permits, and they cannot obtain an oversize permit for any load that can be feasibly broken down in size or weight.
Rules when you need travel escorts
In many states, shipments over 12 feet wide require travel escorts (or “pilot vehicles”). In addition to variable per-mile rates, shippers typically pay for hotels and other incidentals, known as accessorials, and would be included as part of the overall freight costs.
The role of travel escorts is to forewarn flatbed drivers of special circumstances, like accidents, construction zones, bridges, low wires, traffic jams, and other hazards that require careful driving. They also serve in alerting the public of the presence of an oversized vehicle.
Factors that will impact your schedule
In most states, oversized loads with travel escorts may only be on the road from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset, Monday through Friday. Many states restrict or prohibit driving over holidays or weekends.
Before a load hits the road, drivers need permits for each state traveled with exact travel routes specified. All of these factors—especially the drive time restrictions—present unique challenges for shippers trying to maintain schedules.
Meanings and requirements for special markings
The size of the item being shipped dictates the necessity of flags or lights on the tractor or trailer. Typically, red flags and amber lights are required for oversized loads to ensure visibility to other traffic.
Travel escorts accompanying an oversize shipment are often also required to have flags and or lights.