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What Are Weight Restrictions for Commercial Vehicles?

Why The Government Regulates the Weight of Semi-trucks

The weight of a tractor-trailer can cause hazards for other drivers in a variety of ways. We all understand that the faster you go, the longer it takes to stop. This is even more true when driving a vehicle that runs much longer and heavier than passenger cars and trucks. The more an 18-wheeler weighs, the longer it takes for the truck to come to a complete stop upon braking, the easier it is for the truck to roll if it comes around a curve or swerves sharply, and the larger the capacity for danger to other cars on the roadway or damage to the road itself as the truck travels.

Questions Answered on This Page

  • Why do we even have weight restrictions?
  • How much weight can an 18-wheeler legally carry?
  • What happens if a truck is over the legal weight limit?

18-Wheelers have Weight Limits to Protect the Public

Weight regulations are in place to make sure we're all safer on the roadway. There is a direct correlation between how much a vehicle weighs and it's ability to successfully maneuver situations like quick lane changes, stopping abruptly because traffic slows or a car swerves into our lane, and other obstacles faced on the roadway.

For example, at the time this article is being written, we're litigating a case in Fort Worth where cars were stopped in traffic and an 18-wheeler plowed into the stopped vehicles, killing several and injuring more.

In a perfect world where the laws of physics were different, an 18-wheeler would weigh as much as a passenger car, and would be able to carry heavier loads while still maintaining adequate braking distances and maneuverability. Unfortunately, the dynamics of transporting heavy loads are a bit like standing in the middle of a triangle and trying to touch all three corners at one time: the closer you get to one, the further you are from another. In terms of trucking, the bigger and stronger you make the tractor, the more weight it's capable of carrying, and the greater a potential danger it presents.

Trucks must be 80,000 pounds or less to comply with federal and state regulations

18-wheelers are not permitted to exceed 80,000 pounds of total weight, including the weight of the vehicle and its cargo. To put that in perspective, most passenger cars weigh around 3,500 pounds and pickup trucks typically weigh around 5,000. Commercials trucks themselves, naturally, weigh a significant amount.


For example, if a rig weighs 30,000 pounds, the total weight of cargo on board must be 50,000 pounds or less. Obviously, this limitation impacts the profit margin for trucking companies, which want to carry as much cargo as possible on every trip to maximize their revenues, and may pressure drivers to overload their vehicles as a result. But driver mistakes can also result in overloading. You'd be surprised how many times we've seen truckers accidentally carry closer to 80,000 pounds in cargo because they forgot the limit includes the trailer too.

Here's what the law says with regard to weight restrictions:

§658.17 Weight.
(a) The provisions of the section are applicable to the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and reasonable access thereto.

(b) The maximum gross vehicle weight shall be 80,000 pounds except where lower gross vehicle weight is dictated by the bridge formula.

(c) The maximum gross weight upon any one axle, including any one axle of a group of axles, or a vehicle is 20,000 pounds.

(d) The maximum gross weight on tandem axles is 34,000 pounds.

What happens if an 18-wheeler is over the weight limit?

If a driver knowingly or unknowingly travels over the federal weight limit, a few things can happen.

State police try to enforce weight requirements by using "weigh stations" on major highways. You've likely seen these before. Truckers are supposed to pull in and and get weighed to make sure they are within the legal limits.


Unfortunately, this system is far from foolproof. Commercial truck driver have a couple of ways to avoid these stations:

  • Don't drive that highway: Truckers know where weigh stations are. They talk to each other over their CB radios and alert each other that on such-and-such highway, a weigh station is open. All they have to do is take back roads around the station---it's really that simple.
  • Drive right past: State police are often understaffed and underfunded. Cops are supposed to be at the weigh station to watch for "runners" who just drive by without getting weighed, but truckers know that, often enough, no cops are there to enforce the rules.

It a driver is caught exceeding their permitted weight limit, they may face some or all of these consequences:

  • Having their license suspended
  • Facing fines
  • Financial liability

If an accident occurs while a truck is travelling over the weight limit, there are other implications to consider. If an experienced lawyer is able to present evidence that indicates the proximate cause of the accident was the 18-wheeler's having traveled with an excessive cargo weight, juries generally don't respond well to the driver or trucking company responsible.

Unless you've got an experienced 18-wheeler accident lawyer on your side, you may never determine whether the truck that caused your accident was overloaded. The Texas truck accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have investigated hundreds of crashes involving commercial vehicles. If you've been hurt in such a collision, call us anytime (855) 326-0000 to find out how we can help you.

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