Useful Guide to Stowage for Road Transport of Goods

Already in 2006, the European Union estimated that 75% of the goods transported by vehicles on its roads were not properly stowed. What is more, it then calculated that 1 of 4 accidents involving vehicles fitted out for the transport of goods had their origin in deficient stowage.

Cargo stowage is considered the adequate placement, distribution, protection and fixing of goods inside a container or vehicle so that they can safely arrive to their destination, under the custody of the carrier. 

This has always been an ill-defined, imprecise term and has led to various interpretations. In response to this, the courts have accumulated multiple sentences with contradictory definitions in relation to the interpretation of the concept itself, as well as with respect to the similarities or differences in relation to others, such as the lashing of the goods.

On the one hand, there are courts that understand that lashing and stowage are different concepts for which different agents may be responsible (Murcia Provincial Court – Decision 88/2016 or the Supreme Court – Decision of 22 November 2006), yet, on the other hand, there are courts that consider that lashing is an intrinsic part of stowage and, therefore, must be carried out by the loader as part of his duties (Barcelona Provincial Court – Decision of 30 April 2015). 

Although the situation has improved, this is still a burning issue and we need to work on it. For this reason, the Basque Government, together with the Institute for Cargo Safety and other agents and institutions in the sector, has promoted the creation of a complete Basque Guide for Road Transport of Goods, which we believe can be very useful for the agents involved in these tasks and in the area of transport.

The Guide is based on four general rules, as follows: 

– Directive 2014/47/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 April 2014 on the technical roadside inspection of the roadworthiness of commercial vehicles circulating in the Union and repealing Directive 2000/30/EC

– Law 15/2009, of 11 November, on the contract for land transport of goods.

– Law 16/1987, of 30 July, on the Regulation of Land Transport.

– Royal Decree 563/2017, of 2 June, which regulates the technical roadside inspections of commercial vehicles circulating in Spanish territory.

In addition, the guide is divided into several chapters which, among other matters, deal with aspects such as stowage tools; damage caused by deficient stowage; who is responsible for the cargo, stowage and lashing; or what criteria are used in the inspections and how they are carried out. Furthermore, it tries to clarify, to the most possible extent, the controversies raised by this term, and to this end it provides the following list of aspects that are considered to be inherent to the concept of STOWAGE: 

– Verification of the packaging, check that it is suitable for the transport of goods 

– Protection, if necessary. 

– Loading into the vehicle. 

– Conditioning of the goods for transport.

– Stabilisation, if necessary. 

– Adequate weight distribution. 

– Fixing and immobilisation of goods.

– Checking during the journey, and subsequent tightening if necessary.

The Guide promotes that the loader makes a correct description of the goods and ensure that it is correctly packed (paying particular attention to dangerous goods). In addition, they must ensure that the vehicle and the fastening equipment used for the transport are suitable and that the person or entity in charge of loading the goods onto the truck is duly informed of everything. 

Regarding the duties of the loader, these basically consist of two concepts: (i) the review prior to loading and (ii) the review of the operation at the end of the loading and before initiating the transportation.

Finally, and with respect to the responsibility of the Carrier, even if this has not assumed the tasks of loading and unloading the goods in the means of transport, it is required to: (i) carry out a visual inspection of the truck and the goods to ensure that there is no lack of security; (ii) ensure that the vehicle can provide all certificates and markings, if necessary; (iii) check periodically the securing of the transported goods; (iv)  carry out loading, stowage and lashing only in the event of express agreement and prior to the presentation of the vehicle. 

The eternal question of who is responsible for incorrect stowage and/or lashing is answered in Article 20 of Law 15/2009, of November 11, on the Contract for Land Transport of Goods. This answer is still being worked on as it does not convince many of the agents involved in road transport, for whom the possible handling of the cargo by the carrier should be left without effect. The current response given by Law 15/2009 is clear: “The operations of loading the goods on board the vehicles, as well as those of unloading them, shall be carried out by the loader and the consignee, respectively, unless these operations are expressly assumed by the carrier before the actual presentation of the vehicle for loading or unloading. The same applies to the stowage and unstowage of the goods“.

In other words, if no express agreement is made prior to loading, the loader will be presumed to be responsible for securing of the goods. This is also ratified by RD 563/2017 and the subsequent clarifications of the “DGT” (Directorate General for Traffic), see our articles “Inspection of the securing of cargo on trucks, clarification by the DGT”  and “R.D. 563/2017, of 2 June 2017, Technical inspection of commercial vehicles

Similarly, article 21 of Law 15/2009 reinforces this interpretation, considering that it will be the loader who must prepare the goods for transport, just as it will generally be the receiver of the goods who will be responsible for their rejection at destination, unless expressly agreed otherwise.

As we can see, the Guide is very extensive in its content and presents a very high degree of details, by which it attempts to stipulate a common terminology and criteria which will help to establish greater legal security in the sector, as well as it aims to improve the practices, training, and competitiveness of operators and shippers, and the purpose of all this to promote a more professional and safe road transport of goods.