Laws on Rear Overhang for Pickup Truck Loads

For the safety of other drivers, as well as the load you are hauling, there are various laws in place concerning how far items can overhang the rear end of a truck. In many cases, loads that do overhang must be marked to alert other drivers. Failure to do so can result in a traffic ticket or fine.

How Far Can Something Hang Out of a Truck?

As a truck driver, you may wonder how far something can hang off the back of a truck and still remain within the confines of the law. According to the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Size Regulations law, cargo can overhang a vehicle in the front by 3 feet, on the side by 4 inches and in the rear by 4 feet.

When Do I Need a Red Flag on the Load?

If cargo overhangs by more than 4 feet, it must be properly marked. The load must be marked on its side with a red side marker lamp indicating its maximum overhang. A marker lamp is a lamp mounted on the side of a vehicle as near as practicable to the front and rear of the vehicle. It provides light to the side to indicate the overall length of the motor vehicle. In addition, the load must be marked by two lamps to the rear of the vehicle indicating its longest overhang point and by two red reflectors indicating the rear-most maximum width. Any time the use of headlights is required by law, the red marker lamps must also be illuminated.

In addition, a commercial motor vehicle carrying a load that extends over the sides by more than 4 inches or over the rear of the vehicle by more than 4 feet must have a red or orange fluorescent warning flag to denote the load's longest extremity. Warning flags must be at least 18 inches square.

If the projecting load is 2 feet wide or less, only one warning flag is required. If the load is wider than 2 feet, two flags must be used. The flags must mark the maximum width and length of the projection. Federal law dictates that a triangular flag may be used in conjunction with these mandated lights and flags, but may not be used without them.

Legal Overhang on a Pickup Truck

Laws applying to commercial motor vehicles also apply to passenger vehicles, including pickup trucks. If a load overhangs the front of your truck by 3 feet, the side by 4 inches or the rear by 4 feet, you will need to properly mark the overhang at its maximum width and length with warning flags, reflectors and lights for driving after dark.

How Far Can Something Hang Out of a Truck in California?

In California, the rules governing loads on trucks are somewhat different from federal rules. Items on pickup trucks, trailers or semitrailers must not overhang the last point of support by more than two-thirds the length of the wheelbase. The state of California defines the wheelbase to be the distance between the rearmost axle of the towing vehicle and the rearmost axle of the semitrailer.

Other states have additional restrictions, so be sure to check local laws before attempting to move a load that will overhang your vehicle. Carry warning lights and flags with you at all times whether you operate a truck commercially or for personal use so you will be prepared in the event you need to carry a sizable load.


  • Oversized loads can overhang a vehicle by 3 feet to the front, 4 inches to the side and 4 feet to the rear. Flags and lights must be used properly to mark oversized loads.

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