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How Far Can a Ladder Extend on Top of a Car?

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How Far Can a Ladder or Lumber Stick Out From the Back/Rear of My Car, Truck, or Vehicle?

Have you ever wondered about the law concerning the protrusion of items from a vehicle in your state? Like when you’re hauling a ladder or lumber for that new project. Most states have different rules, so you need to have the red flag and know the limitations of protrusion lengths your state legally permits. If you have something sticking out too far from your car or truck, you can be issued a citation. Even worse, a fine. We’ll go over the basics of having something protruding from the front or back of your vehicle and what the limitations are in your state.

What Are the Basic Laws of Transporting an Item Sticking Out of a Vehicle or Truck?

  • Secure Your Item Properly

One of the most important things here is to ensure you don’t lose whatever you’re moving. Therefore, ensure your long item is properly secured to your vehicle or truck. When securing lighter items we suggest using a small rope if you can tie a good knot. If you’re not the greatest with knots, consider a double tie if this is the only option. For heavy and long items (lumber, poles, pipe, ladders, etc.), use ratchet straps to secure them when possible. We do not recommend using bungee cords for securing anything under any circumstances. They are too stretchy and can’t be 100% counted on. The last thing you need is an insurance claim.

  • Red Flag Rules

Do I have to tie a red flag on anything that sticks out of the back or front of my vehicle or truck? The rule of thumb on this is if it sticks out more than 3 feet, Yes. It doesn’t matter if it extends 3 feet from the front bumper or 3 feet from the rear bumper down low, on top of the hood, or in racks. However, if it protrudes more than 3 feet in either direction, you must attach a red-colored warning flag to each protruding end.


What Does the Law Say About Objects Protruding From the Front or Rear of Vehicles or Trucks?

Considering the safety of other motorists and public property, there are various laws in place to limit how far an item can overhang or protrude from the rear end of vehicles. They also cover properly marking the item being transported at each end. As mentioned earlier, if you don’t correctly flag or mark the protrusion, you could be subject to a ticket, a fine, or both. The USDOT has federal regulations that cover this area of the law. It says that if you have something protruding over 3 feet in the front or 4 feet from the rear of the car or truck, it must be properly marked with a red or orange safety flag. Keep in mind that objects protruding more than 4 inches from the sides of a vehicle must be appropriately marked.

What’s the Proper Way of Marking Items Sticking Out of the Front or Rear of a Vehicle or Truck?

  • Daylight Hours

During this time of the day, protrusions can be marked with a red or orange safety/warning colored flag. Flags must be a minimum of 18 inches square.

  • Nighttime Hours

During the hours of darkness, objects protruding from vehicles must be illuminated with a red lamp placed at the far rear extreme of the item protruding from the rear.

Examples of Items That May Be Too Long for Your Car or Truck

  • Lumber
  • Poles
  • Ladders
  • Pipe
  • Building materials
  • Kayaks
  • Canoes
  • Surfboards
  • Nursery stock


Considering the USDOT doesn’t have authority on state and local roads, let’s look at the individual state laws on items sticking out (protruding) from vehicles.


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