All truck drivers become more familiar with weigh stations than they would probably like, however, weight stations are a vital part of safety enforcement on commercial vehicles on our roadways throughout the country. While regular drivers just have to deal with regulations by the Department of Motor Vehicles, commercial truck drivers also have to deal with the Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT is an agency which has safety regulations in place for all commercial trucks along with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Here we will be exploring what the purpose of a trucking weigh station is, how to know if you need to stop at one, the penalties for not stopping, and the overall benefits of weigh stations.
How Do Truck Weigh Stations Work?
Weigh stations are placed at various points in our nation’s highway system and operated by the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and state highway patrol. When a weigh station is open, all commercial drivers are required to exit and enter the scales to be weighed. You can tell this by a sign placed in advance that shows “OPEN” in a green light or “CLOSED” in a red light. A weigh station is to verify that the trucks are operating under a weight of 80,000 lbs. Once that is verified, they will be signaled with a green light allowing the driver to proceed on his way. Some drivers may be selected or diverted to a holding area to undergo an additional DOT inspection. The scales at some truck stops may not be entirely accurate, but the truck scales at the weigh station are legally binding.
What Are the Benefits of Weigh Stations?
To fully understand weigh stations, we need to have an understanding of why we have them in the first place and their benefits. Historically, weigh stations were implemented as a means of collecting tax. The reason behind this is that the additional weight of commercial trucks causes additional wear and tear toroadways, which in return costs tax dollars in repairs to keep those roadways in good condition. The trucks were weighed and charged accordingly. You can imagine this as being similar to a toll road today. While taxes can still be paid at a weigh station, that system has been refocused through the International Fuel Tax Association (IFTA). Now, the primary focus of the weigh station is safety.
By checking the maximum weight dictated by the overall gross vehicle weight rating in comparison to the actual weight in real-time, they can determine how safely the load will ride. Just being within the weight range is not the only concern but also how that weight is dispersed appropriately throughout the trailer. The systems behind these truck scales are very high tech and impressive in their overall capabilities. Some additional DOT inspections may be carried out during the stop as well. These checks can help impact the safety of everyone on the roads by enforcing regulations of motor carrier safety and upkeep on commercial trucks today. This keeps safe trucks on the road and hazardous trucks placed out of service.
How Do Truckers Know if They Need to Stop at a Weigh Station?
Weigh stations are generally equipped with open and closed signs posted prior to the station’s exit. If the sign reads closed, then the drivers are able to continue down the highway without stopping. However, if the sign reads open then by law they must exit the highway and go through the scales and follow the prompted instructions. There are some variables in here as well though.
One of those is a bypass service, known as PrePass. This service will judge your company’s motor vehicle safety record and give you the ability to bypass most truck weigh stations depending on that score. At that point, trucks are mainly pulled in when they are due for a safety inspection. You can find these devices through services such as Drivewyze, or even offered through some of the modern ELD systems, in addition to the log book services. Some include a PrePass transponder as well. Another perk to the bypass system is that it will also get you through some port of entry locations much quicker.
It is important to note here that if you are running an oversized load—meaning you are hauling over the standard size or weight limit restrictions—you must pull into every weigh station whether you have a PrePass or not. Overweight trucks do not qualify for the ability to bypass the weigh stations.
Keep in mind that if you skip a weigh station when you are directed to enter it, or are found to be in any violation such as safety infractions or hours of service issues, you can be issued a fine from the weigh station.