Saying something’s “heavy” typically means it’s going to bring everyone down. But when it comes to heavy-haul trucking, there’s cause for lightness. After all, the heavy-duty trucks market was valued at $190.47 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach $280.54 billion by 2026. That said, we’ll explain what heavy-haul trucking is and answer questions about how to get into heavy hauling.

The heavy-duty market was shut down by COVID-19, but a rebound is in the works. According to Mordor Intelligence, the market is expected to register a compound annual growth rate of around 7.34% between 2021-2026.

What is heavy-haul trucking?

Heavy-duty trucks are commercial vehicles integral to commercial activities such as transportation, agriculture, construction, and more. Heavy-haul trucking transports oversized items such as industrial machinery, military or farming equipment, and construction materials.

Since the trucks transport heavy loads, these shipments require special handling, optimized routing, and additional permits. Thanks to the heavier size and weight, the driver can’t just get out on the road and drive from point A to point B as they might with a typical cargo load. This leads us to the next question: What is a heavy load?

What is a heavy load?

The definition can vary across states, but as far as the federal government is concerned cargo is classified as a heavy load when it exceeds:

  • 80,000 pounds of gross vehicle weight
  • 20,000 pounds of single axle weight
  • 34,000 pounds of tandem axle weight

To protect bridges, the number and spacing of axles is another consideration. The Federal Highway Administration uses this formula to make this calculation:

W=500(LN/N-1 + 12N + 36)

  • W=overall gross weight on any group of two or more consecutive axles to the nearest 500 pounds.
  • L=distance in feet between the extreme of any group of two or more consecutive axles.
  • N=number of axles in the group under consideration.

Simple enough, right?

Since the standard highway lane is 12 feet wide, loads exceeding 8.5 feet wide are considered oversize and often require a state permit.

Are there restrictions for heavy-hauling?

Heavy-haul trucking calls for particular documentation and permitting. Fleet managers will need to get these squared away before sending drivers out on the road. Different states, cities, and counties will restrict the amount of time an oversized freight can travel and during what hours of the day. Depending on the commodity shipping as the heavy load, there could be added permits required for the cargo as well.

If you’re moving a shipment across state lines, know that the regulations vary from state to state.

Understanding the heavy-haul permit

State permits generally reflect local terrain, population density, environment, and laws. Permits can be issued within three to five days, but are generally for that one specific load within a particular time frame.

Permit prices can range from $15 to $70 depending on the state, route, destination, and size of the load, and may also require a processing fee. Allow yourself plenty of time to acquire the proper heavy-haul permits.

Are there any additional requirements for heavy-haul trucking?

Heavy-haul trucking can require drivers to take special routes and power lines may need to be lifted or obstacles may need to be removed. Even without these kinds of special considerations, though, there are some added requirements typical of oversized and overweight loads.

Safety flags

These fluorescent orange or red flags are typically placed at the outermost corners of the heavy-load truck to help drivers and others on the road gauge clearance.


Some states require you to equip heavy load vehicles with rotating yellow LED lights. When traveling at night or in low visibility conditions, lights can also be required to replace the safety flags.

Escort vehicles

Escort vehicles or pilot cars travel with the heavy-haul trucks. Some states may even require a police escort for super loads (over 16 feet wide). The need for escort will be decided by:

  • The type of load hauled
  • Load size
  • Route of travel (e.g., crossing state lines and bridges or driving on interstates and side streets)


The yellow “oversized load” banner is placed on the front and back of the vehicle carrying the heavy load. Sometimes a “wide load” banner can be used in place of the oversized load. Typically, the banners are sold as reversible signs to enhance your flexibility.

How to get into heavy-hauling

Billions of dollars in goods are shipped in the United States each year. Heavy-haul loads are just part of that market, but this niche remains a lucrative one.

Getting started in heavy-hauling and growing a successful trucking business requires:

  • Selecting the target market
  • Identifying your heavy-haul rates per mile
  • Creating a business plan
  • Determining legal requirements
  • Finding business funding
  • Buying the necessary assets (and insuring them)
  • Preparing trucks for the road
  • Finding and training drivers for heavy haul
  • Establishing fleet processes
  • Growing your client base

Find out more about becoming an owner-operator in our blog “7 Things You Need to Know If You Want to Be An Owner-Operator.” Or read how Chad Boblett started his own business and has been thriving for a decade now.

Why use Motive for heavy-haul trucking?

To be successful in heavy-haul trucking, it helps to identify risks and correct inefficiencies with the instant asset visibility offered by Motive’s GPS tracking software. Motive’s fleet safety software also increases driver safety and improves driving behaviors with automated post-trip coaching.

Offering fleet managers the ability to track vehicles and equipment in near real time and using artificial intelligence to gauge the route versus historical performance and current situation can improve customer experience.

Plus, drivers are less pressured, and can be safer on the road while delivering on time and as expected. This can reduce accidents by up to 30% while also helping to cut wear and tear on your trucks (even when they’re handling the heaviest of loads).

Motive’s fleet management software supports your growing business. Request a demo today.