TransportationLawmakers Continue Debate Over Increased Weight Limits of Trucks. What Carriers Should Know.

11/28/2023by Thomas Fee

If you are a truck driver or trucking company that stays updated on countrywide transportation laws, then you are likely aware of the ongoing debate over increased weight limits of trucks. This debate started out due to the idea of modifying weight regulations for commercial vehicles. It’s continued because of the potential implications and dangers that could be prominent for drivers and those with whom they share the roads.

As lawmakers continue to debate this popular topic, it’s important to learn more about the potential changes that could occur and their potential consequences.

Current Trucking Laws In the United States

The regulations for truck size and truck weight standards are encompassed in both federal laws and state laws. Federal laws dictate the maximum gross vehicle weights and axle loads that are taking over the interstates. These maximums play a huge role in the nation’s transportation infrastructure.

Based solely on federal trucking laws, the following weights apply:

  • The maximum gross vehicle weight is 80,000 pounds
  • There is a cap of 20,000 pounds on a single-vehicle axle
  • A 34,000-pound limit is imposed on tandem axle vehicles

Federal regulations also dictate what specific sizes are standard for the width and length of each vehicle. These are applicable to the National Network (NN). This network includes the interstate system and specific selected roadways that are designated by each state. These federal laws aim to maintain safety and consistency throughout the nation.

However, federal law does not include or impose height restrictions on trucks. Due to this lack, there is greater flexibility. The federal regulations listed above are needed to create a framework and starting point that governs the safety of large trucks on our nation’s roadways.

What is the Current Debate Over a Trucks Weight Limit?

As of now, the American Trucking Association (ATA) is pushing hard to change the weight limits for trucks. Recently, the group increased its truck tonnage by 1.1%. This is an increase from previous months, following a decrease earlier in the year.

The ATA is currently advocating for heavier loads; however, it is also pushing for better, well-balanced trucks to enhance safety and efficiency. Despite attempting to convince each state of the benefits of increased trucking limits, they are falling short.

In the trucking industry, there is a notable divide. Many are hoping for increased weight, while others are expressing concerns that can’t go unnoticed. One of ATA’s most notable proposals is “88 on 5.” This proposal aims to allow an extra 8,000 pounds of weight without adding another axle or altering trailers.

Due to the backlash, the ATA has put forth a follow-up proposal titled “97 on 6.” As you can guess, this proposal was also unsuccessful due to the increased weight without mandating the corresponding support it needs. Of course, safety will remain a key consideration, and because of this, opposing groups are expressing their opinions of these proposals.

Another strong player in the game, the Truckload Carrier’s Association (TCA), brings up a totally different concern apart from safety. If trucking weights were to increase, this would call for better vehicles, including more axles and stronger brakes. Additionally, fuel expenses could skyrocket as well. Even if shippers are willing to pay more for heavier trucking loads, the biggest potential challenge of all proposed changes mentioned is logistics.

The Coming Changes for Truck Drivers

The debate surrounding increasing weight limits for trucks has invited several notable bills from lawmakers. One such proposal, H.R. 2948, = suggested elevating the weight capacity for stinger-steered trucks to 88,000 pounds. Additionally, with H.R. 3447, lawmakers are hoping to sway opposing industries by using a policy concern that many care about – the environment and protecting it. This bill aims to give hydrogen fuel cell vehicles the ability to carry weight that is well over the current maximum limit. It goes hand in hand with the trucking industries and federal agencies’ broader view of a sustainable future.

A bill of this sort has already come to light and was unsuccessful. In 2015, the Safe and Efficient Transportation Act (SETA) was proposed, which tried to raise the maximum weight limit to 97,000 pounds. This Act would have offered the funds for many highway safety programs if, on the off chance, weight limits were increased.

After this Act was proposed, many potential risks and liabilities this increased weight could bring were discussed and reviewed. In the end, the Act was challenged by many opposing groups.

The essence of this debate now includes many considerations. It has moved far past weight and brought in other related aspects, such as the environmental objectives, driver safety, cost concerns, and the pull for zero-emission vehicles. Many are getting into the discussion around this evolving industry and ongoing debate, making it even more complex.

The Dangers of Increasing Weight Limits for Trucks

Hearing both sides of the debate is important to make an educated opinion. Knowing the liabilities straight from those driving these vehicles is essential. As this debate continues, here are some additional points to consider if the weight limit for commercial trucks is increased:

  • Rising insurance costs for companies and drivers
  • The strain on road infrastructure nationwide
  • Compromised safety concerts on the roads
  • Lack of drivers due to risks and dangers
  • Extending stopping distances resulting in longer shipping times

Texas Trucking and Transportation Lawyers

As your legal ally, Fee, Smith & Sharp, LLP is instrumental in the trucking industry. Our Texas transportation attorneys offer exceptional legal services to local, regional, national, and global trucking companies, highway construction contractors and subcontractors, and more. Our comprehensive support guides our clients through the intricate and thoughtful rules already in place. We are actively engaged in the transportation industry’s debate and stay informed on federal and state trucking laws. With our advocacy and support, we will partner with your business to contribute to the success and safety of the trucking industry.


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