Anyone who has taken a long drive on the highway for work or pleasure has noticed weigh stations along the way. While stopping at an open weigh station can be inconvenient for truckers and fleet managers, these stations are essential to the relationship between states and trucking businesses.

Overloaded trucks cause damage to highways and bridges and are a safety issue both for motorists and for the drivers themselves. Weigh stations mitigate that risk.

What is a weigh station?

The first state to put a weight law for trucks in place was Maine, which set a limit of 18,000 pounds in 1918. Originally created to collect road taxes from truckers, weigh stations are locations established and operated by a state’s Department of Transportation to enforce laws by inspecting the vehicles using its roads. Most weigh stations are situated just off highways. Many can be found at the border between two states, known as a port of entry

The primary purpose of a weigh station is to ensure that any truck is under the United States maximum allowable weight of 80,000 pounds. This nationwide figure allows for a maximum amount of pressure of 800 pounds per tire pressure per square inch when crossing a bridge and ensures that road quality and public safety are not endangered. Exceptions may be granted in cases where a load cannot be broken down into smaller components, such as a large piece of equipment, but the routes of those trucks may be restricted in turn.

DOT staff members and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration agents on-site may also check that a truck is appropriately maintained. They may conduct an inspection at any of six levels ranging from driver-only or vehicle-only to an in-depth and time-consuming North American Standard inspection. Agents can opt to inspect items including but not limited to: 

  • license, log book, inspection reports, permits, HAZMAT documentation, and other paperwork
  • tires, wheels and rims
  • brakes
  • coupling devices
  • kingpin
  • springs
  • fuel tank and line
  • hoses and tubing
  • seat belts and safety gear 

Excess weight or another violation can lead to a truck being taken off the road until changes have been completed and verified, costing companies valuable time

Why are weigh stations often closed?

There are many factors that affect how often and for how long a state is able to open a weigh station. Staffing ability is at the top of the list. Opening a weigh station requires personnel to manage traffic, interact with drivers, conduct weighings, inspect vehicles, and issue citations.

Another important factor that states must consider is that inspecting trucks may affect the flow of traffic. Trucks entering the station can form a long line that extends all the way back to the highway. This time-consuming and fuel-burning bottleneck is the reason behind the trucker slang “chicken coop” to refer to a weigh station. A safety issue is created when a weigh station backup occurs during a time of heavy commuter road use and blocks a lane of the highway. For this reason, weigh stations are often open at off-hours. 

Which vehicles need to stop at weigh stations?

When a weigh station is open, qualifying commercial trucks must stop. It is important for fleet managers and drivers to know and comply with the laws along their vehicle’s route. 

 Most states require that any commercial truck weighing over 10,000 pounds stop at an open weigh station; in others, even empty trucks must stop. In some states, rental trucks carrying household goods (moving trucks) must stop. Personal vehicles do not need to stop at weigh stations, nor do trucks that subscribe to an electronic weigh station bypass system.

Are you ready to learn more? Talk to a Fleet Advisor today.

What if a truck fails to stop at a weigh station?

A law enforcement officer who catches a driver skipping a weigh station can issue a citation that carries stiff fines and other penalties. The officer can also direct the truck to return to the weigh station, where that driver can then expect a very thorough and lengthy inspection of his or her vehicle to take place. Business owners and fleet managers can save time and money by emphasizing the need for their drivers to stop at a weigh station every time it’s required.

How can trucks legally bypass weigh stations?

Weigh station bypass programs can reduce fuel costs and avoid fines. The program is overseen by the Department of Transportation and managed by state or local authorities. Weigh station bypass programs allow truck drivers to avoid weigh stations if they have been deemed eligible for a bypass.

How does a truck get weighed? How long does it take?

When a truck is weighed, two figures are measured. 

  • Axle weight refers to the amount of weight carried by each axle. 
  • Gross weight is the combined weight on all axles. 

Some scales require the trucker to drive on, often slowly and only one axle at a time. Newer scales called Weigh In Motion (WIM) scales can determine the axle weight or gross weight of a truck as the vehicle is driven over them. There is no need for the driver to stop, allowing for faster and more efficient use of the weigh station. In fact, some states are installing WIM systems directly into the highway, allowing them to monitor the weight of all vehicles on the road.

What happens if a truck is overweight?

If a truck is found to be overweight, a fine will be issued and the vehicle will be taken out of commission until its load is lightened. The fines vary from state to state. While some states fine only pennies per pound of excess weight, some penalties can be significant. In 2017, Rhode Island fined a company $57,000 for carrying a load seven times higher than allowed by law on one of its flatbed trucks.

If you’d like to learn more about how GPS Trackit can help to improve safety, increase productivity and reduce costs for your business, speak with one of our knowledgeable Fleet Advisors at 866-320-5810 or get a quick Custom Quote.








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