How to Successfully Ship Critical Freight

Your most important shipments — high-value goods, tight deadlines or sensitive cargo — need special care and attention from your shipping provider. 

Medical supplies, perishable goods, hazardous materials and emergency relief supplies are just some examples of critical shipments. These vital goods need the utmost care and attention before, during and after transport. 

Over nearly 70 years, Anderson Trucking Service (ATS) has worked with vendors on hundreds of critical loads. We’ve developed some best practices you can use to make sure your most important cargo arrives on time and according to your specifications. 

In this article, we will give you practical tips for working with a carrier or broker on critical freight shipments. This information will help you work with a shipping partner to move your most important loads. 

Know Your Critical Freight Shipping Requirements

Your shipping provider needs to understand all requirements of the critical shipment. Have a discussion with your point of contact about the origin and destination of the freight, handling requirements and deadlines. 

With this information, the broker or carrier will develop a custom route plan designed around your needs. Some examples are: 

  • Crucial delivery dates will be built with extra time so the driver doesn’t miss the deadline. Creative solutions like a team driver may be used for increased drive time each day. 

  • Special handling will be assigned to an experienced driver who is prepared to accommodate any additional needs. 

  • Hot loads that need immediate pickup will have the nearest driver immediately routed to your location. 

No matter the requirements, understanding them and communicating with your provider is the first step to success. 

Communicate to Keep Time Critical Freight on Track

Keeping an open line of communication with your shipping provider is vital on critical loads. 

Before transit begins, make sure all your requirements are documented and understood by everyone involved. A formal conference call or video meeting are good ways to ask and answer all questions without unnecessary back-and-forth. Sometimes this conversation may include a manager or higher-level point of contact. 

After the conversation, an email documenting everything discussed makes sure no stone is left unturned and all parties agree to the terms. 


During transit, it’s okay to ask for regular updates. If your deadline is critical, request regular updates on the driver location and an immediate confirmation when they arrive. Ask for photos of the loaded trailer to verify your securement requirements are being met. 

While the driver can’t give 24/7 updates while they are driving, you can specify regular notice on sensitive shipments.

During your initial conversations, make sure you align with your provider on a communication schedule and methods. Knowing your definition of proper notice helps the provider meet your expectations. 

Choose the Correct Carrier for Sensitive Freight

Critical shipments require a carrier or broker who is prepared and resourced for your needs. A smaller provider who has only a few drivers available may not be able to give your load the time and attention it needs. 

Newer providers who don’t have experience with shipments like yours may not be able to prepare for your load. 

This is an instance where having multiple preferred providers is key. You may have one carrier who specializes in a specific geographic region who can pick up hot loads as needed. One carrier might specialize in heavy haul trucking who can carry your oversize items. 

Your critical shipments are not the time to test out a new carrier or broker. Relying on existing relationships, especially if they have successfully completed similar shipments, gives you an added layer of security with your most important freight. 

Your carrier or broker are one part of your shipping team. Making sure everyone is well qualified is a necessary step in critical shipping. 

What Steps Do Drivers Take on Critical Freight Delivery?

Critical shipments can’t be left to chance, or to an inexperienced driver. When securing transit, have a conversation with the provider about driver qualifications. 

Qualified drivers can depend on a variety of factors. Understand what your load needs before talking to the provider, and specify what you need from the driver. 

  • Credentials. If your driver will need additional credentials, like TWIC or hazmat certification, make sure the driver has completed those qualifications.

    If you’re unsure what kind of credentials the driver will need, talk to your carrier or broker. They can use your description of the freight and delivery to find a driver who meets all the requirements.  

  • Experience. Critical loads are not going to a novice driver. Ask about the driver’s years of experience and safety record. If you are sourcing a specialty trailer, make sure the driver has training with that type of vehicle.

    If escorts and pilot cars are needed, ask about their qualifications too. You don’t need any amateurs with your most important freight. 

  • Training. Highly specialized freight-related tasks may require special training on your jobsite (for example, keeping equipment running).

    When specialized training will be required, communicate the requirements to your point of contact so they can be passed along to the driver. Your driver needs to be willing to take the time and complete the training as specified. 

The driver is the one who will be most directly responsible for the load’s success. Make sure your expectations match what the driver is willing to do before you complete your specifications. 

Before the driver leaves your point of origin, they should prepare for all contingencies. While it’s ideal that they won’t encounter any issues during transit, drivers often aren’t dealing with ideal situations. 

Create a Back-Up Plan for Critical Shipments

There are very few guarantees in the transportation industry. When planning for the shipment, make sure there are back-up plans in place that help you meet your goal. 

Does the driver need a generator and a back-up generator to keep equipment running during transit? Will you plan for the driver to arrive the night before an early morning appointment to prevent last-minute delays? Is there another power team in the area who can finish the trip in case of a breakdown? 

Before the shipment leaves, plan for as many contingencies as possible. 

  • What is the weather forecast along the route? 
  • Are there any major events taking place along the route that can cause traffic jams? 
  • Will a substitute driver be available if something happens to the truck? 

Creating a plan and a back-up plan means you don’t need to worry if something goes wrong. Ideally, everything will go off without a hitch, but having a plan in place will eliminate potential headaches (and costs). 

How Much Does It Cost to Ship Critical Freight? 

You can’t afford to take chances on critical freight. This is not the place to cut costs or try to get the best price from your carrier or broker. 

Depending on what type of handling your freight requires, be prepared to pay for: 

  • Additional driver tasks. Drivers are typically compensated for the number of miles they travel. If a driver is expected to spend additional time securing or handling freight, they will need to be paid for that time.
  • Driver credentials or experience. Some critical shipments will require an experienced driver, or one who carries additional credentials like hazmat certification or DOD clearance. Drivers who achieve and maintain these credentials are paid a premium. 

  • Extra drive time. Tight deadlines may require team drivers to cover more ground in one day, or specify that the driver wait at the location. Expect to pay for that idle time. 

  • Insurance. If your freight is valued above a standard cargo load and you can’t afford to lose the difference, the solution is additional cargo insurance. Most carriers and brokers will ask you to obtain this insurance on your own and at your own expense. 

  • Extra security measures. Highly valuable or desirable freight may require GPS or tracking devices. You will be paying the cost of these devices.

  • Escort vehicles or permitting. Oversize loads with permits, escorts or pilot services will have additional costs. The carrier or broker will pass those costs to you. 

Before specifying a critical load, consider what the shipment is worth to your business. While transit may not be cheap, specialty deliveries are often a situation where you get what you pay for. 

Working with a Carrier or Broker on Critical Freight

You already know how much your critical freight matters to your business. Choosing the right carrier or broker means it matters to them as much as it matters to you. 

Knowing how to work with a provider means your freight will arrive as specified and on time. Communication and planning are key steps to success. Especially when it comes to critical freight, there’s no such thing as overpreparing. 

No matter the reason your shipment is critical, you need a reliable carrier. The Transportation Provider Scorecard can help you determine which provider is best for you by helping you gauge their performance over time. If you’d like to talk to the team at ATS about your next critical shipment, request a quote

Tags: Heavy Haul Shipping, Flatbed Shipping, Oversized Shipping, Dry Van Shipping

Dustin Taylor

Written by Dustin Taylor

Dustin Taylor has been a national sales representative at ATS since 2023. His role focuses on providing transparent, timely and trustworthy service to new and existing clients. He believes that customer service and the ATS service offerings help him to stand out among competitors and help provide unique shipping solutions.

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