You’ve probably passed a truck weigh station (also known as truck scales) more than a few times in your driving career. Why are weigh stations available, and why do semis use them?
Unless you’re a professional truck driver, you might not realize that truck weighing is an important regulatory function.
Here’s an explanation of why weigh stations are available and why truckers have to use them.
Trucks and weight laws
The average loaded semi can weigh around 80,000 pounds. That’s a lot of weight, especially compared to the average four-door sedan (which weighs about 3,000 pounds plus passengers). Now imagine how many semis you see traveling on the road every day. All that extra weight can put serious wear and tear on highways, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. Furthermore, the heavier a vehicle, the longer it takes them to stop and the more damage that they can cause, so it makes sense that the government would want to regulate how much weight a semi can carry.
Every state and the federal government have weight restrictions on their roads and other infrastructure. This is factored by the pound as well as how by many axles the truck has—they’re often limited to 20,000 pounds or less per axle.
In some cases, there’s no choice but to drive an overloaded vehicle. In this case, you’ll need to obtain special permits from the government to do so… And you’ll still need to use truck weigh stations throughout your journey.
Weigh stations (or scales) are usually located off the side of major freeways. Any truck over 10,000 pounds must stop at any open weigh station every time they go by. (Whether or not they’re open is usually advertised by signs or opening the exit.)
When a driver pulls into a weigh station, they’re directed to rolling scales. These scales can measure the truck’s weight without the driver having to stop. If it’s under the weight limit, the driver can pull through and get back on the road—unless the attendants want to do a surprise driver log inspection. (Since truck drivers are heavily regulated in many areas, like working hours, breaks and time off the clock, this is not uncommon.)
If the truck is overweight or if the driver fails to pass a log inspection, they’re temporarily detained. They may be subject to fines or fees. If the driver has been on the road too long, the weigh station attendants may recommend that they take their break then and there—or take other measures that will help the driver stay in compliance.
As you can see, there are several reasons why semis use weigh stations. The government has a vested interest in making sure that trucks and their drivers are safe while on the road. Regulating and checking weight is just one way to make sure that they’re in compliance.
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