May 7

Transporting Heavy Equipment Guide: DOT Regulations and Pre-Trip Checklist


Last Updated on January 31, 2022

The Department of Transportation (DOT) issues a number of safety guidelines for people traveling the road, especially for those transporting heavy equipment. Each guidelines is meant to keep drivers safe and avoid the risk of damages, delays, injuries, or worse. Drivers carrying heavy equipment must to their part to abide by these regulations. They are required to be aware of all DOT regulations, equipment securement options, and best practices for chaining down cargo.

This process may sound very intimidating, but the solution is simple. Staying up to date with DOT regulations and best practices will ensure you have a safer and cost-effective experience while hauling heavy equipment. Keep reading, we have just the information for you.

DOT regulations

Heavy equipment haulers must be aware of the cargo securement regulations instituted by the DOT. These regulations are published in the Federal Register and compiled in the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and represent the minimum standards for safe cargo transportation.

Regulations are enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and this enforcement program is known as CSA (Compliance, Safety, Accountability). Each violation under the CSA achieves penalty points and contributes to a severity score. This score measures the potential risk of an accident caused by violations.

These scores get applied to both the carrier and the driver. The carrier’s score remains in the FMCSA system for two years. However, drivers who achieve violations will have that data attached to their profile for three years. And a driver’s crash history is maintained for five years.

The FMCSA has identified about 100 proper load securement violations and they carry some of the highest severity ratings. These range from 8 to 10 points per violation. And, If the violation meets the out-of-service criteria outlined by the CSA, the number of penalty points attributed to the violation is tripled!

Heavy equipment road check

Each year, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) conducts an International Roadcheck in the United States and Canada. For three days, inspectors on both sides of the border conduct a high number of roadside inspections of large trucks.

In June 2017, inspectors reviewed more than 62,000 large trucks and buses. The 2017 International Roadcheck resulted in many severity scores and fines. About 23 percent of vehicles (about 9,400 total vehicles) and 4.2 percent of drivers (about 2600 drivers) were placed out of service.

Being placed out of service means the haul can’t be continued until the violations are addressed. This affects the haul schedule, customer relations, and future revenue for the company and/or driver.

In the US, inspectors deemed 3,282 vehicles had no or improper cargo securement. The top violations included:

  • No or improper load securement (423 vehicles)
  • Failure to secure vehicle equipment (379 vehicles)
  • Leaking, spilling, blowing, falling cargo (281 vehicles)
  • Insufficient tie downs to prevent forward movement for load not blocked by headerboard, bulkhead, or cargo (256 vehicles)
  • Failure to secure load (178 vehicles)
Truck transporting heavy equipment on a highway

Trailer options for transporting heavy equipment

Haulers generally use open trailers, which come equipped with anchor points that are useful for securing heavy equipment. Open trailers are used to haul heavy equipment almost always. This is because the dimensions of most heavy equipment exclude the possibility of using closed trailers.

When transporting heavy equipment, consider these eight trailer options.


These are available in lengths of 24, 40, 45, 48, and 53 feet. The flatbed is a versatile and popular type of open trailer. Due to its open nature and flat bed (the trailer), loading and unloading non-mobile equipment and supplies is extremely easy. The bed is about 60 inches off the ground, and it can transport loads up to 8.5 feet in height and 48,000 pounds in weight.

Extendable flatbed

These trailers can be extended from 43 feet long up to 80 feet long. This allows for the shipment of larger loads. Extension is achieved by releasing the pin joining the trailer’s two sections and applying the brakes on the trailer while driving forward.

Step deck

Similar to flatbed trailers, these trailers have two deck levels: an upper and a lower level. They also include a ramp for unloading. The only difference between a step deck trailer and a flatbed is the maximum legal height.

Stretch single drop deck

This type is similar to step deck trailers, but the difference is in the lower deck. These trailers. can extend from 48 feet to 76 feet. The upper deck is 9.6 feet in length and does not extend. The maximum gross trailer weight rating (GTWR) is 44,000 pounds.


These are also known as low-beds, low loaders, floats, or double-drop trailers. These trailers carry close to the ground due to two drops in the deck—one located behind the trailer front and one located ahead of the wheels. The drop allows for shipping of heavy items up to 14 feet in height. The 40,000-pound GTWR can be doubled by changing the number and placement of axles.

Removable gooseneck

The trailer front (called a gooseneck hitch, because it resembles the shape of a goose’s neck) is removable, so driving large mobile equipment on and off the trailer becomes easier. It also features a dropped deck, called a well, which allows for taller cargo (up to 11.6 feet).

Stretch removable gooseneck

Trailers in this category are similar to the standard removable gooseneck. However, the well on these trailers can stretch from 29 feet to 65 feet. Whereas the previous could only carry up to 42,000 pounds, this one can carry up to 150,000 when the trailer is fully extended and more axles are added. 

Extendable double drop trailers

These trailers can be adapted to meet non-standard needs. They feature a stepped deck that can be extended from 29 feet to 50 feet. The stepped deck is lower to the ground and allows for cargo up to 11.6 feet in height.

Truck hauling heavy equipment to construction site

Before transporting heavy equipment

Before loading the vehicle, drivers should verify that the trailer is suitable to haul the load by examining the weight and dimensions of the load. Then ensure that no special permits are needed. After that, here are other important steps to take.

  • Determine what kind of securement equipment is needed (chains, chocks, friction pads, winches, etc.).
  • Check that the securement equipment is in good working order. There should be no tears or cuts. Also ensure the working load limit (WLL) of each securement device can be read. If the WLL rating has been worn off, then it can result in an insufficient tie-down violation if you get inspected. A legible WLL on a load securement device also means the driver doesn’t need to rely on memory.
  • Clean the trailer and ramps of aggregate, dirt, debris, snow, and other substances.
  • Check the trailer’s anchor points for signs of damage or weakness. Don’t use any anchor point that is damaged or structurally unsound.
  • Mark off the loading area with cones, flags, or other visuals.
  • Make sure anyone who is involved with the loading is aware of their duties and make sure they have the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). Choose a level and stable base that is away from other people and activities. A level base decreases the chances of something falling off the trailer and stops the trailer from sinking under the weight of the load.
  • If you are transporting heavy equipment you haven’t hauled before, check the machine’s user manual for the manufacturer’s recommendations on shipping that machine. If a manual isn’t located on the machine, you can probably find the manual online.
  • Drive equipment slowly and only operate equipment you know how to safely operate.
  • Place the heavy side of the load facing forward and as close to the front as possible to avoid fishtailing (looks as the name suggests) while driving. Place equipment directly up to the trailer’s bulkhead or headerboard, if it has one, for the best securement. This may mean reversing the machine onto the trailer.
  • Lower any appendages or moving parts on the machine (excavator arm, loader arms, dozer arms, etc.) to the trailer floor. On wheeled equipment, apply the parking brake. Any accessories that aren’t firmly fixed to the machine need to be secured to the trailer.
  • Use the correct amount of tie downs and the correct cargo securement equipment. Only use securement points on the trailer and the cargo that appear strong and undamaged. Use the securement points placed on the machine by the manufacturer or attach tie downs as close as possible to the front and rear of the machine. Place tie downs in a manner in which they don’t damage the cargo, such as a machine’s hoses.

If the machine has an articulation point, secure the machine in such a way that the machine won’t pivot while in transit.

Load securement devices

Although chain is the most popular choice for heavy equipment tie downs, there are numerous other options:

  • steel strapping – a strong strap made of steel 
  • wire rope – a rope composed of strands of metal wires wrapped around a steel core
  • manila rope – a flexible and durable rope made of manila hemp
  • synthetic rope – a rope comprised of braids from one or more different types of synthetic fibre, such as, nylon, polyester, polypropylene or high modulus polyethylene
  • synthetic web – similar to a synthetic web but has loops on either end
  • webbing ratchet (or ratchet strap or tie-down strap) is a strap with a ratchet-style fastener on each end

Note – securement equipment is more than tie downs and anchor points. Other securement devices include:

  • grab hook – a hook that can be attached to one of the previously listed items; it comes available in three types: non-cradle, cradle, and chain
  • binder – (or load binder) is a T-shaped met rod with a hook attached to each side of the top of the “T” and it is for fastening and tightening chains
  • shackle – is a U-shaped metal device for fastening and tightening chains
  • clamp – is similar to a shackle but with a different fastening mechanism
  • winch – a hand-operated or mechanical device with a pull-out rope or chain at the end of which is a hook or other fastening device
  • friction mat – mats with strong friction surfaces that help decrease slide, especially when transporting equipment with a smooth bottom
  • block – (also chocks) a square or triangle-shaped device (usually made of wood) that prevents cargo from sliding or rolling

The trailer can also be equipped with other securing equipment. This includes a bulkhead or headerboard, a front-end structure (especially on a drop down trailer), D-ring and stake pockets, posts, bracing, cradles, locking bars and friction mats.

Truck towing heavy equipment down a road

Heavy equipment chaining standard

The FMCSR Cargo Securement Standard covers all commercial vehicles operated on a highway with a gross vehicle rating of more than 10,000 pounds (except for bulk commodities in a tank or hopper). The standard states that all cargo must be contained, immobilized, or secured. This ensures the cargo will not leak, spill, blow off the vehicle, fall from the vehicle, fall through the vehicle, become dislodged from the vehicle, shift upon or within the vehicle to such an extent that the vehicle’s stability or maneuverability is adversely affected.

According to DOT’s Driver’s Handbook on Cargo Securement, a load is fully contained when it can withstand a forward force of 80% of cargo weight, a rearward force of 50% of cargo weight, a sideways force of 50% of cargo weight and an upward force of 20% of cargo weight.

Chaining heavy equipment

Many haulers use a simplified guide to meet cargo securement regulations, which will serve them most of the time, but exceptions and extraordinary circumstances may mean loads are not fully contained.

The simplified guideline a lot of haulers use is this:

If the machine is more than 10,000 pounds, use four tie-down points;

if it’s less than 10,000 pounds, use two tie-down points.

However, there is actually a length formula and one another circumstantial criteria for determining whether a load is fully contained. The length formula for loads more than 10 feet in length is as follows:

Add two tie downs for the first 10 feet of cargo and add one more tie down for each 10-foot section plus one more for each fraction of 10 feet.

A 24-foot-long machine would require a total of four tie downs: two for the first section of 10 feet, one for the second section of 10 feet and one for the final section of just four feet.

In this case, this formula yielded the same result as the 10,000-pound, four tie-downs rule. Each tie down is anchored to one corner of the machine for optimal securement. However, if your load is an excavator or a crane or any other machine with a long appendage, you will need at least one more tie down. You will need about one tie down for every 10 feet of that section of the machine that is beyond 20 feet in length.

The other criteria for determining the number of tie-downs is based on the structure of the trailer and the position of the load on it. If the trailer has a bulkhead or headerboard and the machine is positioned right up against it, an additional tie-down is not needed. However, if either of those is not the case, then you need one additional tie-down. The purpose is to counter the forward forces produced by the load when the truck driver brakes. This is called a penalty tie-down.

Tie down amount

Once you know the number of tie-downs needed, you can determine what strength tie-downs are sufficient. All tie-down securement devices have a WLL rating. This rating specifies how much weight the device can safely secure under normal working conditions. DOT load securement regulations the total WLL used on a load must cover at least half of the load’s weight.

Let’s use a 24-ton excavator as an example, and let’s pretend it’s going onto a trailer that doesn’t require a penalty tie-down. According to regulations, this machine needs five tie-downs.

Half of 24 tons is 12 tons (or 12,000 pounds). Then divide 12,000 pounds by five to determine the minimum WLL needed for each tie down. In this case, the tie-downs need a minimum WLL of 2400 pounds. Of course, all tie-downs need not have the same WLL. They can have various WLLs, so long as the aggregate WLL is equal or greater than half the weight of the machine.

Pre-trip inspection

Properly securing your load avoids damage, delays, injuries and death, as well as fines. Performing an inspection of your trailer and load is essential to ensuring your load is and remains secured throughout the trip.

Remember to do the following before your next trip:

  • Ensure all load securement gear is rated to handle the load. The total WLL of all load securement systems should be equal or greater than half of the machine’s weight.
  • Inspect all load securement devices for cuts, tears, and other damage. Replacing a questionable securement device is better than paying for fines, violations, and damages caused by an unsecured load.
  • Ensure all tie-downs are fastened linearly with downward force and without slack. This will prevent the load from moving. Chains should be free from horizontal twists, bends, and angles. Excess chain should wrap around the binder, so it doesn’t lay loose on the trailer. Three of the top five FMCSA load securement violations involve tie-downs!
  • Use the best tie-down points. Manufacturers often create their equipment with tie-downs points. If not, choose tie-down points that are near the four corners of the machine. Use a part of the machine that won’t bend or break. Avoid applying pressure to any sensitive parts of the machine, such as hoses.  
  • Use a chain gauge to monitor your chain’s links, especially for load-bearing portions.
  • Ensure hook binders, hooks, and chains aren’t on the rub rails. They should remain inside the deck.
  • Secure everything. You have to secure all equipment and tools, as well as the load, and this can include shovels, brooms, pallet jacks, winches, ratchets, signs and flags.
  • Make sure tires are inflated on the trailer, the truck, and the load (if it’s a wheeled machine). Flat tires on your truck or trailer can lead to a blowout. Tires on the cargo that deflate during the trip will increase the amount of slack in your tie-downs.
  • Ensure the lights on the truck and trailer are in good working order.
  • Ensure the brakes on the truck and trailer are in good working order.
  • Make sure the load doesn’t obscure the driver’s view.

Once the pre-inspection is complete, you can start hauling, but make sure you stop and inspect the cargo during the trip and before unloading. Drivers are expected to inspect their cargo after the first 50 miles, again every 150 miles or three hours, whichever is the shorter duration, and at every change of duty.

Hauling heavy equipment requires plenty of focus and attention to detail, but the more you know, the more often you will have successful, safe, and enjoyable trips. Once you master the DOT regulations and best practices, you’ll be one of the most professional haulers on the road.


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