Moving goods by road

How to move goods by road including the type of vehicles used, key documents, insurance and licensing.

The different road haulage vehicles

In the UK, with some exceptions, the maximum vehicle weight is 44 tonnes gross (truck, fuel and load) and has up to 6 sets of axles. Most foreign vehicles coming to the UK have 2 axles on the tractor and 3 on the trailer, which limits them to a weight of 40 tonnes both here and in their home state. The maximum individual truck length is 12 metres, articulated truck and trailer length is 16.5 metres and road trains are allowed up to 18.75 metres. The maximum width for all is 2.55 metres. If a vehicle has an overall height of 3 metres or above, a notice is required must be displayed in the cab showing its full height.

The main vehicles used to transport goods by road are Articulated Lorries (Artics). These consist of a tractor unit with a turn-table device which can be linked to a trailer. With or without a trailer, the Gross Combination Mass – the combined prime mover and trailer – must exceed 3.5 tonnes. Artics have different types of trailers, including:

  • Flatbed trailer – used for almost any kind of cargo, but goods need to be protected from the elements and theft
  • Tilt trailer – like a flatbed trailer, but with a removable PVC canopy
  • Curtain-sider – the mainstay of road haulage, this has a rigid roof and rear doors – the sides are PVC curtains that can be drawn back for easy loading
  • Box trailer – an entirely rigid unit, with loading through back doors – a secure option for valuable goods
  • Road train – a rigid vehicle at the front, which pulls a trailer behind it
  • Swap-body system – built to accommodate standard cargo containers – allows containers to be swiftly transferred during intermodal transport
  • Low-loaders – often used for transporting heavy machinery and other outsize goods – set low to the ground for easy loading

Vans are frequently used to transport smaller cargoes shorter distances.

While goods are being transported, drivers are responsible for the security of goods and compliance with weight and similar restrictions. Traders are responsible for providing adequate dunnage (protective wrapping) to protect and stabilise the goods and for any damage caused to the vehicle while being loaded if they are the party actually loading the vehicle.

The CMR note: the key road transport document

What the CMR note is

The CMR is a consignment note with a standard set of transport and liability conditions, which replaces individual businesses’ terms and conditions. It confirms that the carrier (that is, the road haulage company) has received the goods and that a contract of carriage exists between the trader and the carrier. Unlike a bill of lading, a CMR is not a document of title nor a declaration, although some states regard it as such. It doesn’t necessarily give its holder and/or the carrier rights of ownership or possession of the goods, although some insurance is included.

How to complete the CMR note

You can fill in the CMR yourself, or you can have a freight forwarder or the carrier do it for you. However, you remain responsible for the accuracy of its contents.

A range of information needs to be covered in the CMR note, including:

  • the date and place at which the CMR note has been completed
  • the name and address of sender, carrier(s) and consignee (the person to whom the goods are going)
  • a description of the goods and their method of packing (the description should be acceptable to the consignor and consignee) – for security reasons, you do not always want the carrier to be able to identify valuable goods
  • the weight of the goods
  • any charges related to the goods, such as customs duties or carriage charges
  • instructions for customs and any other formalities such as dangerous goods information

Generally there will be 4 copies of a CMR note. One will be kept by the trader and another by the carrier, while the third will travel with the goods all the way to their final destination. The final is the administration copy.

While the carrier is liable for any loss, damage or delay to a consignment until it is delivered, the trader is responsible for any loss or damage the carrier suffers resulting from incorrect details having been provided in the CMRnote.

Other documentation issues for transport by road

Forwarders’ certificate of receipt (FCR)

Increasingly, international trade journeys are intermodal, with freight forwarders playing a crucial coordinating role. Much road freight is organised in this way.

‘Forwarders’ documents’ have been designed for these kinds of transactions. The FCR provides proof that a forwarder has accepted your goods with irrevocable instructions to deliver them to the consignee indicated on the FCR.

Using an FCR can speed up payment. For example, if you’re selling overseas and your contract with the buyer states that the goods are collected from the factory and the buyer is responsible for arranging the freight, an FCR can be issued when your buyer’s forwarder collects goods.

You can then present the FCR for payment, rather than having to wait until a non-negotiable or negotiable transport document (the proof of the goods having been loaded onto the transport conveyance for the main international carriage, if any) is issued, which may be some time later.

While an FCR is non-negotiable, another similar document, the Forwarders’ Certificate of Transport, is negotiable. This means that the forwarder accepts responsibility to deliver to a destination you specify – not to an unchangeable destination as with the FCR.

The TIR system

This allows vehicles to cross numerous borders without repeated customs checks. Goods are checked and sealed at the outset, and the vehicle is then waved through by customs authorities until it reaches its final destination. Traders must set up a security bond with the Road Haulage Association or the Freight Transport Association.

All traders moving goods across the EU under TIR must submit an electronic customs declaration using the New Computerised Transit System (NCTS). Read newsletters on Union/Common Transit and TIR.

Download the European Commission Transit Manual for the TIR procedure from the Europa website.

TIR doesn’t apply to journeys within the EU because there are no customs checks for EU-only journeys.

Transporting dangerous goods by road

This explains the procedures you must comply with for carrying dangerous goods by road.

You may see two different terms used to refer to these rules – ADR and the Carriage Regulations – but both refer to the same provisions. ADR is a Europe-wide code on dangerous goods, while the Carriage Regulations translate that code into UK legislation. The Carriage Regulations also apply to the transport of goods by rail.

The regulations apply to carriers and traders. Traders are often asked to produce the dangerous goods declaration and supporting documents (such as vehicle documentation, safety and accident reporting) and to ensure the goods are suitably packaged and labelled. Traders must also comply with two key sets of duties – classification and packaging.


Any dangerous goods you’re transporting must be marked with their name, description and United Nations (UN) number.

UN classification groups for dangerous goods

UNClass Dangerous Goods Classification
1 Explosives Explosive
2 Gases Flammable gas
Non-flammable, non-toxic gas
Toxic gas
3 Flammable liquid Flammable liquid
4 Flammable solids Flammable solid
Spontaneously combustible substance
Substance which emits flammable gas in contact with water
5 Oxidising substances Oxidising substance
Organic peroxide
6 Toxic substances Toxic substance
Infectious substance
7 Radioactive material Radioactive material
8 Corrosive substances Corrosive substance
9 Miscellaneous dangerous goods Miscellaneous dangerous goods
1 Explosives Explosive
2 Gases Flammable gas
Non-flammable, non-toxic gas
Toxic gas

Certain goods are prohibited from transport by road, for example, UN Class 3 goods likely to produce peroxides.


You must ensure that a qualified Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser has checked your goods are handled and packaged correctly. Drivers of dangerous loads will need to hold an ADR training certificate, unless they’re transporting small loads.

The goods must be well packed to withstand the disruption and movement you’d expect during transit. You must also check that your export packaging is clearly marked with the UN classification number from the table above and with the safety labels appropriate to that class of goods. You’re responsible for checking your carrier’s vehicles clearly show they’ll be carrying dangerous goods.

A shipper is legally obliged to make a declaration of the danger or hazard of the goods being transported. For the movement of dangerous goods by sea, inland waterways, road and rail, the shipper can fulfil this requirement by completing a Dangerous Goods Note (DGN) – for air, the correct documentation is the International Air Transport Association Shipper’s Declaration of Dangerous Goods. However, the shipper can design, prepare and present a bespoke or ‘in-house’ document for the surface modes (roads or rail) provided it contains the mandatory information. Some chemical and automotive companies have done this to accommodate specific business processes, such as the need for landscape (instead of a portrait) documentation. Details should also be included on the CMR note.


Security regulations require any business involved in the transport of dangerous goods to:

  • only offer the goods to appropriate carriers
  • make sites that temporarily store dangerous goods secure
  • have a security awareness training programme in place
  • have a security plan in place, if involved with high-consequence dangerous goods

Read guidance for businesses on transport security for dangerous goods from the Department for Transport (DfT).

You also have to send a DGN with your consignment.

See the DGN in the guide to transport document completion.

While it is unlikely, you should be aware that customs rules rules allow controlled goods to pass through the UK without needing a specific UKlicence, but also enable customs authorities to intervene or stop a shipment if they’re concerned.

The consignor of the goods is also responsible for checking that the vehicle driver must also hold an international Transport Emergency Card, known as a ‘Tremcard’. See the guide to driving dangerous goods and special loads abroad.

Insurance for international road transport

As with any commercial transactions, there are risks associated with trading internationally. This explains the likely risks you may encounter and the factors to consider.

For insurance cover to be valid, you have to be able to show that you have an ‘insurable interest’ in the insured goods. This means showing that the goods are yours and that you bear the risks associated with them.


The three main risks that arise in international trade are:

  • loss
  • damage
  • delay (including detention at customs)


How risks are shared between buyers and sellers is a contractual matter. The point at which the insurable interest passes from supplier to buyer is determined by the sale of contract used. You should be aware that Incoterms – a standardised set of trading terms – do not cover insurance unless specifically chosen to do so.

Under a CMR contract the carrier bears some limited liability (although this is determined on a case-by-case basis and sometimes the liability can be total), so traders should arrange the appropriate insurance cover.

Traders often tend to under-insure themselves, so it’s recommended that you add 10 per cent to the amount of cover you think you need. You can also arrange cover for contingencies, such as the buyer refusing to accept your goods when they arrive.

For more information about arranging insurance for your international trade, see the guide on transport insurance.

Licences for international road transport

If you’re using couriers or hauliers, you don’t need to apply for any licences to transport your goods by road. However, you should make sure anyone transporting goods for you is properly licensed.

Anyone operating a goods vehicle must have an operator’s licence – sometimes referred to as an ‘O Licence’. These are required for any vehicle with a gross plated weight of more than 3.5 tonnes. Drivers who transport dangerous goods need to hold an ADR training certificate, unless they’re transporting small loads.

3 kinds of operator’s licence are available, and you should make sure that hauliers you use have the appropriate licence for your needs. The 3 categories are:

  • restricted – the licence holder can carry their own goods within the UK
  • standard national – the holder can carry both their own goods and goods for others within the UK
  • standard international – the holder can carry their own goods and goods for others both in the UK and on international journeys

For international trade, you need to ensure your operator has a standard international licence. If you’re using your own vehicles to begin a journey in the UK, special licensing arrangements allow you to drive larger vehicles without having to hold a higher large-goods vehicle driving licence entitlement. When driving larger vehicles, the maximum weight of the vehicle plus its load determines the driving licence the driver needs.

See more information on driver licensing for lorries, buses and goods vehicles.

Bear in mind that there’s a wide range of other regulations and requirements that road hauliers must comply with. These include rules on the numbers of hours that drivers are permitted to work. For example, all goods vehicles must be fitted with a tachograph to monitor drivers’ working hours.

See drivers’ hours and tachographs.

Further information

Road Haulage Association (RHA)
01932 841 515

Road haulage industry information on the RHA website

Carriage of dangerous goods by road guidance on the HSE website

TIR system information on the International Road Transport Union website

Freight forwarder information on the International Federation of Freight Forwarders Association website

Download the European Commission Transit Manual for the TIR procedure from the Europa website

Dangerous goods classification guidance on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website

Transport security guidance for dangerous goods from the DfT website

Download road-haulage safety guidance from the HSE website

Published 19 September 2012
Last updated 5 April 2016 
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