DOT Vehicle Weigh Stations [Your In-Depth Guide]
If you’re driving your family’s car or truck, you see weigh stations any time you cross state lines. The scales are sometimes open and have a long line of trucks waiting outside, but other times the scales are closed and no one is there. You never had to worry about them before, but for a truck driver, they are important landmarks on their drives and are more than just something to ignore.
We’ve put together an in-depth guide to help you learn more about DOT vehicle weigh stations, why they exist, and their significance for truck drivers.
Most states have requirements that any truck that weighs 10,000 pounds or more has to stop at any, and all, weigh stations. For some states this weight can be higher, but the rule is the same - all commercial trucks should stop at every weigh station when they are open.
A weigh station acts as a checkpoint for weight restriction and safety inspections. That means that the two things that a weigh station checks for is the gross (total) weight of the truck and a safety inspection of both the truck and the trailer. DOT can perform a visual inspection, which can be different levels ranging anywhere from level one (the most thorough) to level six (the most basic).
For most states, only commercial vehicles that are over 10,000 pounds in gross weight need to stop at vehicle weigh stations. Because there are some variations between states, make sure to do your research when planning your trip to know for sure if you need to stop.
Weigh stations were originally built as a way to collect taxes for road use because heavier trucks would cause more damage to roads. However, systems have been put in place so that is no longer the main job of a weigh station. Nowadays, weigh stations enforce safety regulations. At a weigh station, a truck is weighed and inspected to make sure that it fits those safety standards.
Weigh stations mainly check compliance with fuel tax laws, weight restrictions, equipment safety, and compliance with hours of service, which limits how long a driver can operate a vehicle without taking a break.
Generally, the weigh and inspection process is handled quickly and drivers can be back on the road within a relatively short period of time. If there is any missing paperwork or violations of laws, the stop may take much longer.
Heavy vehicles can do more damage to roads than a regular family vehicle. Some states have taxes for larger vehicles to pay for any repair or construction work on damaged roads. Taxes are not the only reason for a semi to get weighed. Some states have regulations on which roads certain weights of vehicles are allowed to drive. If a truck is too heavy, they will be restricted from driving on certain roads, or even not allowed to drive in the state altogether.
Virtual weigh stations use a weigh-in-motion system that provides information on vehicle records and weight without having to stop the flow of traffic. It provides real-time weighing of a commercial vehicle by determining the gross vehicle weight based on the number of axles and their weights and spacings.
The biggest reason a truck has to weigh in on the highway is for safety. DOT weigh stations make sure that trucks driving on the roads are not too heavy, which could potentially cause damage. Certain roads, bridges, and overpasses might have a weight limit to them, and a heavy vehicle would cause structural damage to the road.
Safety checks are performed not just to avoid damage to the road, but also to protect the safety of the people on the road. All trucks have weight limits to what they are safely able to carry and transport. If a driver is over that weight limit, the truck will be more difficult to maneuver correctly, which can lead to complicated issues with braking and maintaining control on steep or winding roads. Trucks must be weighed in to make sure they are following DOT guidelines and standards for their safety and the safety of others.
If a truck is overweight at a DOT weigh station, there are a variety of consequences the driver will face. They may vary by state, but there are some general standards to what you can expect.
Delay of Service: A truck driver’s time is money, and an overweight truck inspection is going to take a lot of it. If you are on a tight deadline and are caught with an overweight truck, you can almost guarantee that you won’t be on time for your delivery. This can cost you money, as well as damage customer relationships.
Fines: Depending on the state you are driving through, there can be harsh fines attached to driving an overweight truck. These fines can range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to over $10,000 per offense. In most states, repeat offenders can even pay double or triple the amount of the normal fine.
Jail: In some states, driving with an overweight truck earns the driver a direct trip to jail, with a sentence up to two months. In addition to the jail time, states will revoke a driver’s CDL as part of the legal proceedings.
Depending on the state you are fined in and if you have been fined before, the rates can vary. Some states only charge a few pennies per pound you are overweight, which can result in smaller fines. Other states, like Rhode Island, will charge $125 per pound over the weight limit, which can lead a single fine to be $57,000.
While some states have small fines, additional fees, charges, and legal processing costs are where the real damage is felt. In Indiana, it is only a few cents per overweight pound, but you will have to pay court costs, and you might have your vehicle’s registration and driver’s license suspended, which will cost a significant amount of time and money.
If you go above the accepted weight limit, the penalties can be anything from having to serve time in jail, having your license revoked, or even a significant fine. If you are caught multiple times with an overweight load, the penalty can double, or even triple in severity. There are multiple programs and tools to help you plan your trip so that you have the required permits to avoid overweight fines and penalties.
Each state has its own laws and restrictions in addition to federal standards. Depending on the state you have your CDL license in, as well as the state where you are being fined, the results of being overweight can be different.
Before you drive, make sure you know the regulations of every state that you are driving through to avoid any penalties, fines, tickets, or court fees.
There is not a standard cost for an overweight ticket. It changes in cost depending on the state you are driving through, as well as the gross weight of your truck. In general, if you are over by only a few pounds, the ticket will be minimal, and if you are overweight by thousands of pounds, your ticket will reflect that.
Some states have a flat fee for ranges that you are over, while others will charge you per pound. For example, Minnesota charges $100 for any truck that is 1,000 to 1,999 pounds overweight plus a $75 surcharge, while Louisiana charges 1 cent per pound in excess of the legal limit for the same weight range. If your truck was 1,000 pounds overweight, your ticket would cost $175 in Minnesota, but only $10 in Louisiana.
Vehicle weigh stations are not optional for most truck drivers, but they can be planned and prepared for before starting a trip. If a driver tries to push their luck by avoiding or bypassing weigh stations they can be fined, arrested, and might lose their CDL certification. You can create a profile with CDL to learn more.