Guidelines for Securing Vehicle Loads and Cargo

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Anyone who drives on a major highway has seen items tied down on trucks, vans, and other vehicles. If a load of cargo falls off a vehicle, it can damage the cargo itself, the vehicle carrying it, or other property. Worst of all, dropped loads can injure or kill drivers or passengers in other vehicles. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that approximately 50,000 automobile crashes every year can be attributed to road debris, including material from unsecured or improperly secured loads. The North American Cargo Securement Standard, created by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), establishes procedures for securing loads during transit on highways in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. If your company employs drivers who transport cargo on the highway, it’s important that they follow these guidelines for securing vehicle loads and cargo.

North American Cargo Securement Standard

semi truck transporting cargo

This standard applies to any vehicle that is considered a commercial motor vehicle (CMV). A CMV is any vehicle or combination of vehicles which are operated across state lines that have a gross vehicle rating of more than 10,000 pounds (4,500 kilograms). The standard applies to any cargo that is carried on or within a CMV, including all general freight, intermodal containers and their contents, and any equipment carried in the vehicle for general operations. Non-CMVs will often be subject to similar state or local laws for securing cargo in any vehicle on public roads.

General Cargo Requirements

Cargo securement systems on or within vehicles should prevent their cargo from leaking or spilling, blowing off or falling from or through the vehicle, or becoming dislodged from its storage location. Cargo should not be allowed to shift within an enclosed vehicle or adversely affect the vehicle’s stability. Cargo and other materials should not block a driver’s view out of the vehicle in any direction. Cargo in the driver’s compartment should be placed and secured so the driver can move freely and access emergency equipment. Finally, cargo should be placed so that it can’t interfere with anyone’s ability to exit the vehicle.

Requirements for Specific Cargo Types

Grain Semi Truck Load

There are certain types of cargo that have additional or alternative securement requirements, including:

Commodities without a specific structure or fixed shape, such as liquids, gases, grain, sand and gravel, or commodities transported in the structure of a CMV, such as in a tank or hopper, are subject to different requirements than those outlined in the standard.


Securement System Requirements

oversized truck cargo load

A securement system uses one or more of the vehicle’s structures, securement devices, and blocking and bracing equipment to keep cargo secured during transit. Each securement system should be able to support 80% of the cargo’s weight while braking and moving straight ahead, and 50% of its weight while accelerating, shifting gears uphill, or braking in reverse. The system should also be able to support 50% of the cargo’s weight while turning or changing lanes, and 20% of its weight while traveling over bumps or over the top of a hill. The specific securement system used should depend on the cargo’s characteristics. All packaging or cargo stacks need to withstand these forces during loading, securement, and transportation.

Vehicles designed to transport cargo should have structural components and securing devices that help secure loads. Floors and walls, anchor points, headboards, bulkheads, stakes, and posts are all common structural components in cargo-carrying vehicles. Some securing devices your drivers may use include:

  • Chains
  • Ropes
  • Clamps
  • Hooks
  • Shackles
  • Blocking and bracing
  • D-rings


Truck cargo with tiedowns

A tiedown is a combination of securing devices that restrains cargo or attaches cargo to the vehicle transporting it. Tiedowns attached to cargo work by counteracting the forces that would move the cargo when it is unrestrained. Some tiedowns attach directly to cargo, while others pass over or through cargo. Tiedowns – except for steel strapping – should be designed so drivers can tighten them if necessary. When using tiedowns, attach and secure them so they can’t loosen, open, or release during transit. If a load or its packaging has sharp edges and could cut through a tiedown, use edge protection where the tiedown contacts a sharp edge.

Tiedowns are most effective when they’re placed correctly on their loads. If the cargo is shorter than 5 feet (1.52 meters) long and weighs less than 1,100 pounds (500 kg), use at least one tiedown. Loads that are heavier than 1,100 pounds (500 kg) or are anywhere from 5 to 10 feet (1.52 to 3.02 meters) long will need at least two tiedowns. Loads longer than 10 feet (3.02 meters) need at least two tiedowns, plus an additional tiedown every 10 feet. If the vehicle shape prevents cargo from moving forward, use one tiedown for every 10 feet. Tiedowns can either be attached directly to cargo or can pass over the cargo to hold it in place. Place tiedowns as symmetrically as possible over the length of the load to keep loads from splitting or buckling.

Working Load Limits

A working load limit (WLL) is the maximum load that can normally be applied to a component of a cargo securement system. A component’s WLL is usually determined and assigned by its manufacturer. A tiedown’s overall working load limit is the WLL of the weakest of its component parts, or the WLL of the anchor points it’s attached to, whichever is lower. The sum of each device’s WLL used to secure a particular load is called the aggregate working load limit. The aggregate WLL for any securement system must be at least 50% of the cargo’s weight. To determine a securement system’s WLL, add half of the securement device’s WLL at each anchor point together. If that total is the same or more than half the cargo’s total weight, the securement system is considered adequate. For example, say you had a 400-pound pallet you needed to secure, and the WLL of two tiedown straps was 100 pounds at each of their four anchor points. If you added half of the WLL at each anchor point, you would have 200 pounds. That is half the cargo’s weight of 400 pounds, so according to the formula, the WLL of the tiedowns would be sufficient.


Cargo that is unsecured or improperly secured can be dangerous to the driver, the vehicle, and everyone else on the road. By following proper cargo securement guidelines, drivers can make sure their cargo gets to its destination safe and intact without posing a risk to anyone else.

If you’d like more information on the North American Cargo Securement Standard, FMCSA has released a guide detailing the standard’s rules and examples for cargo securement here.

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