Weigh stations are a part of a trucker’s career and there is little way to avoid them entirely. Most drivers would agree that they just want to be on the road and on their way rather than stopped at a weigh station waiting for their turn to roll over the scales. Additionally, the absolute last thing truckers want is a DOT inspection or that dreaded red light while they are trying to deliver a load.
So, what’s the deal with weigh stations anyways?
The Weigh Station Basics:
In short, weigh stations are where the Department of Transportation (DOT) inspects the weight of a vehicle. Regular drivers in their personal cars or trucks on the road do not need to stop at these stations as the scales are reserved for commercial truck weighing. These vehicles can also receive an inspection to ensure they are safe and up to standard with regulations to operate.
These stations are often located right off the highways and are used by semi trucks to make sure that they are not too heavy to be traveling on the roads. Due to regulations in the United States, these commercial trucks are only allowed to weigh a maximum of 80,000 pounds (with very few exceptions). Of course, there are times that loads need to be transferred that go beyond that weight limit. These instances require drivers to obtain special permits to transport loads of that size.
There are weigh station sites also located on state lines and are referred to as ports of entry. These ports also inspect trucks and occasionally weigh the equipment if necessary.
What Type of Trucks Have to Stop?
As mention before, commercial vehicles that are over 10,000 lbs are required to stop at weigh stations. Of course, the specifics of exactly what trucks must stop and why vary state by state but are for the most part are very similar. Most commonly, you will see semi-trucks passing through or stopped at weigh stations.
Drivers can even skip the truck scales if they have a bypass service like PrePass. How does that work? Well, truckers can purchase those devices or pay monthly fees to bypass the scales. This saves valuable time on the road and allows them to not be crammed together with a bunch of other trucks. These systems also help the traffic flow at the weigh station. With the millions of truckers on the road at all times, weigh stations can become quite backed up and delay drivers.
A Brief History
Weigh stations came into the picture after the Federal-Aid Highway Act was passed in 1956. This law intended to preserve the infrastructure of our highways by regulating the weight and size of the vehicles operating on them. Additionally, weigh stations were primarily used to collect road taxes from the commercial vehicles traveling on the roads. The stations had kiosks for drivers to pay their fuel taxes. These taxes can still be paid even today at weigh stations despite many companies paying them on a quarterly basis.
Today, weigh stations function as safety and tax regulation enforcement.
What Goes On At a Weigh Station:
If a driver of a commercial truck over the 10,000 lbs is coming up to a weigh station and sees that the weigh station is open, they are required to exit the freeway and enter the station. Most weigh stations have scales that allow a driver to roll over an area to be weighed. If their weight is under the federal weight limit, the trucks may continue to pass through and exit the weigh station. If they receive a red light, that is a different story. Trucks also can be randomly selected for DOT inspections on their truck or logbook.
The Dreaded Red Light
So what happens if the truck is too heavy to drive on the road? A few things. First of all, drivers are not allowed to leave the weigh station until the problem is resolved.
Often, being overweight results in a hefty fine. Some stations will even want drivers to pay it before being allowed to leave.
Drivers can be required to shut down their truck if the gross vehicle weight is 6 thousand pounds heavier than the 80k maximum weight. This would possibly require the driver to unload the excess weight and come back for it. Sometimes another truck from that company comes to pick up the excess weight. Other times the product is just dumped.
In some states, drivers could even go to jail! If the load exceeds the 80k pounds in Alabama, Delaware, or Ohio, the truck drivers can spend up to two months in jail, and possibly have his CDL revoked. Clearly, it is important to follow these rules.
Any driver passing through can be flagged by a DOT Inspection Officer for an inspection of their truck. These are often flagged at random or if there are obvious issues with the truck driving through. All commercial vehicles must follow DOT or Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulations that intend to keep them and other drivers safe. Basically, these officers are simply looking to at the equipment’s condition to see if it is clear to operate or if it could possibly be dangerous.
The things DOT Officers will check on your truck for are:
- Tire pressure/flat tires
- Tire tread depth
- Cracks in rims or wheels
- Properly secured fuel tanks
- Any leaks or damaged tubes
- Oil, fuel, or cooling leaks
- Unlocked kingpin
- The condition of springs
If a truck does not pass inspection, it could possibly lead to the equipment being labeled “out of service” which results in the truck being towed. The equipment cannot be operated until any and all violations are properly corrected and the truck is inspected again. In addition, the mechanic who works on the truck will also sign a form (MCS63). This verifies that all the repairs that were done properly and the truck is now up to regulation.
In addition to checking out the truck, DOT inspectors might ask to see the logbook as well. This is to ensure the drivers are keeping track of their hours and are not violating any hours of service laws. DOT inspectors will often look back 7 days into the logbook.
Appropriate Behavior at a Weigh Station
It is important to act cool and timely at a weigh station, even if it seems like DOT is doing the exact opposite.
As a driver, you should understand how important it is to be on schedule. That means every other trucker in there wants to get out quickly just like you. Therefore, it is important to not back up the scales with bad behavior. Roll up, pass over the scales, and don’t park your truck on them unless a DOT officer tells you to get out or pull over.
If you are stopped for inspection, try to be polite, calm, and understanding. These guys are just doing their jobs as are you. There is no point in trying to yell your way out of inspection or problem. In addition, most excuses won’t work on these guys either as they have heard it all.
Weigh stations and the annoyance that comes with them are just a part of being a trucker. In the end, raising your blood pressure is not only detrimental to your health but a big waste of your time.
Rolling through (or being stopped) at the chicken coop is something all truckers have to live with and accept. Most times you can just drive right through without any problems.
If weigh stations really are something you just can’t stand, go head over to our list of Top Trucking Apps of 2019. A few of the apps we reviewed have features that allow you to either bypass the scales or plan your trip around them. The rest of the apps on there might even make your time in the cab easier so that weigh stations don’t seem so bad.
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