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How To Deal With Road Weight Limits When Shipping Containers-Header.jpg

How To Deal With Road Weight Limits When Shipping Containers

icontainers_news_1a50488895.svgLogistics & Shipping
Updated on 10 Jan 2024
7 min read
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It is crucial that you follow weight restrictions for containers with your domestic or international shipments. Trucking, container transport on the road, is subject to road weight limits which are more complex than just a total gross weight for your container which you must not exceed. Overweight trucks, even on just a single axle, can lead to logistic problems, fines, additional costs for unexpected transport, handling and load re-distribution. In the worst case scenario, an overweight container is a lawsuit waiting to happen should it be involved in an accident of any sort.

In the following, we will break down the complexity of road weight limits so you can understand and anticipate logistics problems and avoid excess weight when transporting shipping containers on the road. We will also give you an overview of weight restrictions in the United States and Europe and tell you what to keep in mind for international container shipments.

What Is The Purpose Of Road Weight Limits?

At times, weight restrictions for shipments can seem arbitrary, especially when they vary significantly between states or countries and cause problems. Although they seem like such a nuisance, weight limits are imposed and enforced for safety reasons. They serve to control weight or length of vehicles, mostly trucks, on roads and roads. They are in place for structural and environmental reasons and prevent large and heavy trucks from using inappropriate roads.

  • Enforce safety for other vehicles and traffic
  • Prevent damage to roads, bridges, and buildings
  • Protect the environment
  • Manage or reduce traffic congestion

The construction, management or even the dimensions of roads and bridges can differ between countries (and even states within the US), so what is appropriate for one structure will not be permitted for another. A simplification or unification of road weight limits is therefore unlikely in the near future.

What is overweight?

A container or shipment can be considered overweight in one or all of the following three ways:

Gross weight: A truck and its cargo cannot exceed a total gross weight, including tractor weight, chassis, container and cargo. Road weight limits for interstates or highways and off-roads might vary.

Axle Weight: This is the allowed gross weight on a single axle of the truck, or a set of axles. In The United States, this is regulated by individual states and limits can vary. A truck or shipment passing through several states must comply with all individual regulations. Over 50% of all US overweight violations are axle issues and are typically caused by uneven load and weight distribution inside the container.

Bridge formula: This mainly pertains to the US and calculates the maximum allowed weight according to the distance between sets of axles. Divided into Inner Bridge (between axle 2 and 5) and Outer Bridge (axle 1 and axle 5) measurement, bridge formula compliance factors in vehicle length, number of axles and total weight to arrive at an allowance per axle. It is largely dependent on the individual truck. Same as with axle weight, problems will arise with uneven load.

The Size Of The Problem Of Road Weight Limits

Unfortunately, there is no universal maximum cargo weight. Limits and restrictions include the tractor, chassis, and container in addition to the cargo, and all of these elements can vary. A container can meet the restrictions for the allowance of total vehicle weight, while the truck can still be overweight on an individual axle. The most common cause for this is uneven cargo distribution within the container, including load, dunnage, blocks and braces and other equipment. Non-standard load configurations with a reduced number of pallets per shipping container will further shift weight distribution. The equipment and trucks vary depending on region, provider and length of haul (short or long). Over-sized containers, refrigeration and generators can further affect vehicle weight.

Road Weight Limits For International Shipments

When shipping between countries or internationally, logistics complication increases. As a rule of thumb, you cannot exceed the lowest weight limit along the route. In Europe, road weight restrictions are generally higher than in the US, but for your international shipments to and from the USA, you will have to follow federal restrictions applying to the North American highway and bridge system. Total gross road weight for vehicles is limited to 80,000 lbs, but further weight maximums apply for each axle. When importing into the US, it is absolutely crucial that you communicate correctly the cargo weight limitations and instructions for cargo loading and distribution so that containers can move overland without problems.

The Numbers - Overview Of International Road Weight Limits


The American Trucking Association (ATA) specifies that each year, 9.2 billion tons of freight are moved on trucks in the USA, accounting for about 70% of total freight moved within the country. This table* specifies the maximum payload for transportation in each state for dry and refrigerated 20- and 40-foot containers.

Click to download this table

USA additional considerations

  • As a general rule, the gross weight for 40-foot transportation should be less than 80,000 lbs, resulting in a cargo weight of roughly 45,000 lbs.
  • Refrigerated cargo weight in 40-foot containers should be between 39,000 and 40,000 lbs, with cargo weight under 80,000 lbs gross weight.
  • A bridge law from 1998 governs all laws regarding 20-foot equipment and the distance between wheel base determines actual weight per axle and gross weight. Cargo weight should not exceed 37,000 lbs with a total gross weight of 68,000 lbs.


This table* specifies the maximum payload for domestic transportation in multi-modal traffic in metric tonnes.


No Exceptions To Road Weight Restrictions

You absolutely cannot expect any exceptions for overweight shipments or leniency when it comes to weight limitations. If your shipping container has excess weight and does not comply with road weight restrictions, you will have to take the following measures and face the consequences at your expense as well as the resulting fines:

  • Stripping and repacking: Your shipment will have to be stripped of its original container and repacked according to weight restrictions. You will incur costs for the delay, the stripping and repacking, and the additional container required for your shipment.
  • Container termination: Overweight containers will be terminated at the port, railyard or container yard. You will have to organize and pay for pick-up, return or handling of the container on-site.
  • Additional charges may apply for special equipment needed to handle and move overweight containers, such as tri-axles and permits.

Always check your container shipment plans with your iContainers logistics professionals and discuss routes in advance. Overseas shipping lines are, at least in theory, lenient when it comes to overweight shipments, but any excess can cause headaches ones you have to pass road weight inspection. Therefore, always respect the restrictions of each country - and each state in the US. Teamwork is required with your logistics partner to ensure your container for shipment stays within the limits not only for road weight, but shipping, packing and all modes of transportation.

*iContainers is not responsible for wrong or outdated information.The shipper is the only responsible for compliance with applicable and current state and federal regulations in loading and packing.

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