Overloading and Road Safety

Overloading has been recognized to be both a safety concern as well as a cost concern. The Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe (TSCZ) always incorporates a campaign message against overloading in its road safety campaigns. Overloaded vehicles threaten road safety, and fatal crashes have happened because of them. Figure 1 below shows an overloaded bus, an uncommon phenomenon in Zimbabwe. Due to overloading, the proper front-end steering gets thrown off balance, and because of excessive weight in the back, the vehicle’s steering will not respond promptly. When combined with excessive speed and manoeuvrability issues, the whole thing becomes a complete recipe for disaster. Moreso, braking becomes another serious problem. Brakes overheat and lose their effectiveness to stop the vehicle. The driver can misjudge the stopping distance because of an overloaded vehicle. Overloaded vehicles need more distance to stop. Steering and handling are significantly impacted, and in extreme cases, the vehicle loses front axle traction. Overloading is indeed, a safety hazard that leads to unnecessary loss of life, and also the rapid deterioration of our roads, resulting in increased maintenance and transportation costs.

The driver’s control and operating space in the overloaded vehicle are diminished, escalating the chances of a road traffic crash. At night, the headlights of an overloaded vehicle may tilt up, blinding oncoming drivers to possible debris or obstructions on the roadway. With overloading, seat belts are usually not used as the aim is to pack in as many persons as possible into the vehicle. By overloading your vehicle you will incur higher maintenance costs to the vehicle – tyres, brakes, shock absorbers and higher fuel consumption. In Zimbabwe, Mushikashika operators are well known for overloading passengers into their vehicles, endangering their lives. As vehicle weight increases, so does the probability of a crash. In fact, crashes are directly proportional to vehicle weight. Adding weight only increases the chance of an occurrence of a road traffic crash.

Vehicles react differently when the maximum weights which they are designed to carry are exceeded. The consequences can be fatal. Overloading puts massive strain on vehicle tyres. Overloading can cause the tyres to overheat and wear rapidly which increases the chance of premature, dangerous and expensive failure such as blow outs. Overloading also causes excessive wear and damage to roads, bridges, and pavements at the expense of the tax payer. It is unfair on other operators. Exceeding weight limits is unfair competition. It also increases fuel consumption, which in turn, will increase your costs as an operator.

Know the weight of your vehicle – both the permitted axle weight and the gross vehicle weight, which is the maximum permitted weight of the vehicle. The driver must take into account the weight of the passengers as well as possible packages, suitcases and so on. Distribute your load appropriately to avoid overloading axles. Transport operators and vehicle owners should have a “safety culture” in place which ensures that drivers always avoid overloading. As a passenger, always remember that your safety is in your hands. Some passengers have a habit of volunteering to stand or kneel along the aisle of a bus. Passengers should not board overloaded vehicles.

Based on Section 77 (c) of Statutory Instrument 154 of 2010, it is an offence to drive with a vehicle’s load not safely contained in the vehicle’s body or securely fastened to the vehicle or is arranged in such a manner as to obstruct the view of the rear of the vehicle. Section 77 (d) of Statutory Instrument 154 of 2010 prohibits driving of a vehicle whose load is in excess of 4.6m from the carriageway or likely to damage overhead wires, bridges or other construction. Moreso, Section 76 (e) of Statutory Instrument 154 of 2010 prohibits dangerous loading where the weight distribution is likely to cause danger to another person or vehicle on the road.

Economic growth demands an adequate transport infrastructure. Overloaded vehicles, especially freight vehicles, are destroying our roads, impacting negatively on economic growth. Damage to roads as a result of overloading leads to higher maintenance and repair costs and shortens the life of a road which in turn places an additional burden on the state as well as law-abiding road users who ultimately carry the costs of overloading. If the problem of overloading is not controlled, this cost has to be carried by the road user, which will require significant increases in road user charges. Overloading a vehicle is illegal and therefore insurance cover will be void if the vehicle is involved in a crash.

Inserted by TSCZ, Operations Research and Marketing Section

Readers can contact TSCZ on the following email: research@trafficsafety.co.zw

The Traffic Safety Council of Zimbabwe emerged from the Zimbabwe Traffic Safety Board which originated from a voluntary organisation composed of area associations in Harare (then Salisbury), Bulawayo, Gweru (then Gwelo) and Mutare (then Umtali).

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