Is it legal to drive with your boot open?

We’ve probably all been in a situation where you’re at your favourite flat-pack or hardware store, and you find something that’s just a little bit too long to fit in the boot.

  • There’s no nationwide rule against driving with your boot open
  • You must have a secure load
  • You have to be able to see out of the car well enough to drive safely

If you have roof racks, that’s likely going to be a better option for properly securing a longer load. But if you don’t, and you’re wondering, “is it illegal to drive with my boot open?”, you might be surprised at the laws.

These rules are possibly stricter than you’d think, but the reason for the harshness of the penalties is that, in years gone by, unsecured loads have caused accidents and even deaths on our roads. So, it’s best to take it seriously because the police certainly do.

The Australian model Road Rules 2014, regulation 292, covering the topic of “Insecure or overhanging load” outlines the following:

  • A driver must not drive or tow a vehicle if the vehicle is carrying a load that:
    • (a) is not properly secured to the vehicle, or
    • (b) is placed on the vehicle in a way that causes the vehicle to be unstable, or
    • (c) projects from the vehicle in a way that is likely to injure a person, obstruct the path of other drivers or pedestrians, or damage a vehicle or anything else (for example, the road surface).

The interpretation of this rule varies across jurisdictions, and so do the potential penalties for doing the wrong thing.

Plus there’s another model Road Rule that may apply, depending on the location: regulation 269, (3), states: “A person must not cause a hazard to any person or vehicle by opening a door of a vehicle, leaving a door of a vehicle open, or getting off, or out of, a vehicle.” That could be interpreted in such a way that, if your boot is open, you could be fined hundreds of dollars, depending on the jurisdiction.

If the load becomes unsecured and ends up on the roadway, some localities require you to remove it from the road – in NSW, for instance, you could cop a $481 fine and three demerits if you lose something from your vehicle and don’t remove it from the roadway.

You may also want to consider the security of your boot lid. If you’re driving a sedan, the boot lid may be prone to bounce up and down over bumps, especially if it’s a gooseneck-hinge style mechanism.

Hatchbacks, SUVs or wagons with gas struts or electric opening systems might be more likely to stay open, but be aware of the additional height of the vehicle when driving with the rear ‘door’ open. Most people attempt to secure the boot lid so it is in the ‘down’ position, which is likely the safest course of action so long as your visibility is not impaired by doing so.

Some carmakers include in their safety warning systems that driving with the boot open can be dangerous for the occupants due to ingress of exhaust fumes. For instance, Volvo has a specific warning: “Do not drive with the boot lid open. Toxic exhaust fumes can be drawn into the car through the cargo area.”

VicRoads has a pretty good set of guidelines for securing a load – though these do span across utility vehicles, trucks and other vehicles:

  • Bundle similar items together, in a more stable single unit.
  • Use restraints when packing wooden boards; anti-slip matting prevents items from sliding, especially long items.
  • Ropes can be difficult to keep tight across your load. When available use webbing straps as they can be more effective and are simple to use.
  • Nets and tarpaulins may be used to restrain lighter items.
  • Loose sheets of building materials may be restrained by fitting them tightly in trays, and then securing them properly with restraints.
  • Make sure heavy items are not loaded on top of lighter items.
  • Most headboards and loading racks aren’t strong enough to fully restrain heavy loads.
  • Use metal or heavy-duty plastic top corner protector angles to protect cartons.
  • High and narrow items such as stacks of smaller cartons usually need more than one restraint.
  • Fill spaces and gaps between piles with other items and make sure these are restrained as well.

“If you don’t properly secure your load, you may be fined, even if your load doesn’t come loose,” VicRoads states.

Fines vary from $242 for minor breaches, through to an enormous potential court-imposed penalty of more than $80,000 for professional load carriers doing the wrong thing. Most ‘regular’ boot loaders would be in the former potential fine space.

But be sure to secure your load so as to prevent it from breaching any of the Road Safety (Vehicles) Regulations 2021 – REG 285, which states that the following must be met by a vehicle that is carrying a load:

  1. the load must be secured by a means that is appropriate to the vehicle and the nature of the load;
  2. the load must be placed and secured on the vehicle in a way that prevents, or would be likely to prevent, the load or any part of the load from—

              (i)     hanging or projecting from the vehicle; or

              (ii)     becoming dislodged or falling from the vehicle;

  1. the load must not be placed or secured on the vehicle in a way that makes the vehicle unstable

You also have to make sure you can see out of your vehicle effectively – you need to be able to see forward, out the sides and out the back of the car, otherwise you could be fined.

In NSW the regulations suggest you may face a fine of $481 and three demerit points if you drive with a load that is not correctly secured. Make sure that your load is secured and doesn’t impact the safety of your car or other road users, and ensure you can maintain clear visibility from the driver’s seat.

Fines and penalties vary depending on your location and the legal jurisdiction.

Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.

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