How far can a ladder or lumber stick out from the rear of a vehicle?

How far can something like a ladder or lumber stick out from the back/rear of my car, truck, or vehicle?

Have you ever wondered what the law is in your state concerning protrusions from a vehicle? Like when you’re hauling a ladder or lumber for that new project. Most states have different rules so it’s important for you to not only have the red flag but to 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 or 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.

Over loaded van with lumber on top, How much is the legal limit? Find out what your state laws are below. Photo credit.

Let’s first go over some of the basics.

Properly securing your item.

One of the more important things here is to ensure you don’t lose whatever you intend to move. This is why properly securing your long item to the car or truck you intend on transporting it on. When securing lighter items we suggest using a small rope as long as you can tie a good knot. If you’re not the greatest with knots consider double tieing in if this is the only option you have. For heavy items, we suggest using ratchet straps to secure your long item (lumber, poles, pipe, ladders, etc) when possible. We do not recommend using bungee cords for securing anything under any circumstances. They are too stretchy and simply can’t be counted on 100%. 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? 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, or on top on the hood, or in racks. If it protrudes more than 3 feet in either direction, you must attach a red-colored warning flag to each protruding end.

What the laws say about objects protruding from the front or rear of vehicles.

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

Proper marking of objects protruding from the front or rear of your vehicle.

During daylight hours. During daylight hours protrusions can be marked with a red or orange safety/warning colored flag. Flags must be a minimum of 18 inches square.

During 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.