Australia: Heavy Vehicle National Law: overloaded and overboard

Last Updated: 13 November 2018
Article by Rebecca Niumeitolu
Most Read Contributor in Australia, September 2019

An overloaded vehicle poses safety risks to drivers, road users and transport operations generally. When a heavy vehicle is overloaded it is less stable, it requires a longer stopping distance, its tyres and brakes are prone to strain and it causes wear to roads and public infrastructure.

Most significantly, overloaded vehicles are more likely to be involved in vehicle accidents than load compliant vehicles and such accidents are more likely to have a greater impact and be more severe.

Notwithstanding the well-known risks associated with overloaded heavy vehicles, two cases have brought non-compliance with mass requirements to the fore. The first saw an increased fine imposed on Redpath Haulage Pty Ltd for exceeding its mass limit by 3.5 tonnes. The second case concerned a transport company that was fined $90,000 by Melbourne's Magistrate Court in July for, among other things, overloading its heavy vehicle by 15 tonnes over its mass limit.

These cases demonstrate that a rehashing of mass requirements is never too late nor can its importance be understated. This is particularly so where courts are taking a stern approach to penalising transport companies for failing to comply with mass limits and state transport authorities have indicated a willingness to 'crack down' on overloaded vehicles.

Your obligation not to overload

The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) prohibits drivers, and persons permitting drivers to drive from driving heavy vehicles that, together with their loads do not, or whose components do not, comply with mass requirements. These mass requirements extend to other CoR parties who also have the capacity to control, eliminate or minimise such mass breaches and associated safety risks by reason of the principle of shared responsibility and the primary duty.

Specific mass limits applying to heavy vehicles according to their type, length and axels as well as applicable exemptions are set out in the Heavy Vehicle (Mass, Dimension and Loading) National Regulation 2013.

Breaching mass requirements can result in the following penalties:

Category Load breach limit Maximum penalty
Minor over the maximum limit $4,000
Substantial = 105% or 0.5 tonnes over the maximum limit $6,000
Severe =120% $10,000 plus $500 for every additional 1% over the 120% threshold (not to exceed $20,000)

If your breach also results in damage to infrastructure, you may also be ordered to pay a hefty compensation order. For example, if your mass results in a vehicle accident which damages a bridge or roadway, you may be ordered to pay for rectifying that damage.

It is important to note that heavy vehicle mass includes tare mass, GVM and mass on tyres and axles. Compliance with mass requirements involves ensuring that every load complies with its GVM as well as its axle limits.

What should you do if you detect that a heavy vehicle is overloaded?

  • best practice is not to move the heavy vehicle until you can rectify the breach
  • if your heavy vehicle is in an inappropriate location where it poses a risk to public safety or the environment, you can move it to the closest place where that risk to public safety is eliminated or minimised
  • appropriate relocation sites include rest areas, weighbridges or other places where the vehicle can be unloaded along the heavy vehicle's route
  • in deciding the appropriate location for the heavy vehicle, do not select a site that requires you to drive long distances, ensure you have sufficient distance between your vehicle and other vehicles on the road and check the route so that you do not create additional risks to public infrastructure
  • you should also document the location of the vehicle where breach was detected, the site for relocation, and your assessment of risks of leaving the vehicle at the breach site vis-à-vis risks of relocation. These documents can be used to demonstrate your attempt to comply with mass requirements if you are 'pulled over' during the relocation of the heavy vehicle or to show your positive attempts to rectify breach if you are later prosecuted
  • notify other parties in the Chain of the incident and the steps you are taking to rectify the mass breach
  • if someone directs or pressures you to drive the heavy vehicle while it is overloaded and not for the purpose of rectifying breach, inform them that such an action risks also implicating them in a prosecution for breach and poses a risk to public safety. Furthermore, inform them that that pressure or direction constitutes a prohibited request under the HVNL which can be independently prosecuted
  • undertake a maintenance check of the vehicle once the breach has been rectified, particularly where there has been a severe breach as overloading vehicles can strain or wear essential vehicle parts such as brakes and tyres
  • ensure that the incident of breach and steps taken to rectify it are documented. Businesses which are prepared for the October amendments to the HVNL should also have measures for reporting such incidents and responses to Executives (whether by way of summary or in detail) in accordance with executives' due diligence obligations
  • finally, if breaches of mass requirements are frequent, this indicates an error in your procedures and a more comprehensive compliance review should be undertaken.


Aside from risks to public safety that result from overloading heavy vehicles, there are also compelling commercial reasons why businesses should comply with mass requirements. All too often we see the misfortunes of overloaded heavy vehicles, whether it be potatoes, chocolate or cheese, sprawled across our highways. To avoid not only risks to public safety but also your loads and reputation, ensure that you are properly complying with your heavy vehicle's mass requirements.

This publication does not deal with every important topic or change in law and is not intended to be relied upon as a substitute for legal or other advice that may be relevant to the reader's specific circumstances. If you have found this publication of interest and would like to know more or wish to obtain legal advice relevant to your circumstances please contact one of the named individuals listed.

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