Container weight declarations

The Heavy Vehicle National Law (HVNL) sets out the obligations for operators, drivers, consignors and consignees about the handling of freight containers and the requirements for container weight declarations (CWD).

Safety risks of transporting overweight loads

Transporting overweight containers:

  • accelerates road wear
  • causes damage to infrastructure
  • can result in longer braking distances and vehicle instability
  • can affect performance and handling.

All of these factors can also increase the risk of a crash, putting the safety of drivers and other road users at risk.

Inefficient practices such as repeated weighing of containers also occurs. Where conflicting weights are recorded, confusion is created. Unreliable weight information makes it very difficult for drivers to comply with the law.

What is a freight container?

A freight container is a re-usable container that is designed for the transport of goods by one or more modes of transport.

Freight containers are defined in Australian Standard AS 3711.1:2000, Freight containers – Classification dimensions and ratings.

What is a CWD and what does it look like?

A CWD is a written declaration of the weight of a container and its contents. It may be either in hard copy or electronic form, or a placard attached to the freight container. It may consist of one or more documents in different formats – for example a sheet of paper and an email - but in any case, it must be able to be produced in its entirety, to an authorised officer, upon request.

What information must it include?

Although there is no specific form for a CWD, it must include the following information:

  • weight of the container including its contents (you may estimate the mass, however subject to the reasonable steps defence, you may be liable if your estimation is incorrect)
  • container number and other details necessary to identify the container
  • name and residential address or business name and address in Australia of the responsible entity for the freight container
  • date of declaration.

When is a CWD required?

A complying CWD is required when transporting a consigned freight container on a road using a heavy vehicle. The requirement for a complying CWD is not dependent on whether the freight container is empty or loaded.

A complying container weight declaration is not required for a freight container that has been modified so it is no longer fit for use in multi-modal transport or its primary use would no longer be for the transport of freight (E.g. modified for use as a storage shed, portable office, portable plant equipment, etc.).

A party in the chain of responsibility may be liable if the CWD is inaccurate, false or misleading.

What is each party's responsibility?


The consignor (importer, freight forwarder, shipping agent etc.) must prepare a complying CWD and provide a copy for the road transport operator or driver before the container can be transported by road. For imported containers, the consignor is the person who imports the container into Australia.


An operator who arranges for a freight container to be transported must make sure the driver is given a complying CWD before commencing the journey. If another carrier transports the container further, the operator must provide a CWD to that carrier before the container is received.


A driver must not drive a vehicle loaded with a freight container unless they have a complying CWD for the container. While on the road, drivers must keep a copy of the CWD in or about the vehicle at all times.


A consignee must not encourage or reward a breach of mass, dimension or load restraint requirements. A consignee will be regarded as participating in the breach if they knew or could reasonably have known that a complying CWD was not provided, or that information about the container's weight and contents was false or misleading.

Responsible Entity

responsible entity, for a freight container, means—

  • the person who, in Australia, consigned the container for road transport using a heavy vehicle; or
  • if there is no person as described in paragraph (a)—the person who, in Australia, for a consignor, arranged for the container's road transport using a heavy vehicle; or
  • if there is no person as described in paragraph (a) or (b)—the person who, in Australia, physically offered the container for road transport using a heavy vehicle.

A responsible entity must not permit an operator or driver to transport a container unless they have been provided with a complying container weight declaration that is not false or misleading.

Freight containers consigned for import or export by sea

Freight containers for transport by sea must also meet the requirements of the Navigation Act 2012, including Marine Order 42. Transport documentation created for that purpose, such as a Pre-Receival Advice (PRA), may be used as a complying CWD (or part thereof) so long as it includes the information mentioned above, and is available for inspection by an Authorised Officer. (A PRA that doesn't contain all the necessary information could be used in conjunction with another document or documents containing the missing details).

Note: the 'Responsible Entity' as defined under the HVNL may differ from the 'Shipper' as defined by the International Maritime Organization (guidance document) and as such this information may need to be listed separately on the PRA or other relevant documentation. As Marine Order 42 requires 'verified gross mass' of containers, parties are encouraged to perform best practice by providing accurate masses on relevant CWDs.