Trucking 101: Who Benefits From Regulations, Fines, and Citations?

We are told that in order to keep society from dropping into pure chaos that we must have the government step in and regulate. Why, if not for regulation, we would certainly all die from food poisoning and industrial accidents. I'd like to pose a simple question - Do you honestly believe that the highways are safer, our food edible, and life better because of regulations, fines, and citations?

It is my opinion that if you believe that is true, your are a deluded fool. Here is an example.

As an operator of a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV), I have a seemingly infinite number of regulations to follow. Every day some group is lobbying Washington for even more regulations. Some are "for" us - The American Trucking Association (ATA), OOIDA (Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, and the TCA (Truckload Carriers Association). Some are "against" us - MATT (Mothers Against Tired Truckers), Public Citizen, and CRASH (Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways).

OOIDA is the only one I have been a member of. I joined for one year and let my membership lapse. It is my belief that none of these organizations is doing anything to protect private property rights and the rights of the individual. I think OOIDA tries, but too often they get on a bandwagon and can't see the forest for the trees.

My weight is regulated. My length is regulated. My height is regulated. The hours I drive are regulated. The roads I drive on are regulated. My health is regulated. That's just on the Federal level. Each state has its own set of regulations concerning routes, weight, and length that must be followed. Then there are city and county regulations. If I had a nickel for every time I blew past a "No Trucks Allowed" sign claiming a city ordinance, I could retire.

Let's start with a little basic information. A tractor-trailer combination in the United States, for the most part, is required to be less than 80,000 pounds gross weight. Even though the truck's total weight is legal, the individual axles must meet a certain weight as well. The basic rule of thumb is: Steer Axle -12,000 lbs. Drive Axles - 34,000 lbs Trailer Axles - 34,000 lbs. 12+34+34=80. Got it? Good.

The trailer axles (tandem) will slide back and forth so that weight can be transferred from one set of axles to another. The fifth wheel on the tractor can also slide to transfer weight from the drive axles to the steer axle. This gives the driver the flexibility to be legal on all axles.

Now, the bridge law. Some genius years ago came up with a formula for wheelbase length that is supposed to 'protect the bridges from damage due to excessive weight.' This basically means that the trailer axles can only be moved back so far on a 53' trailer. This creates a problem if the load is too heavy on the rear. By sliding the trailer axles backward, you transfer weight onto the drive axles. By sliding them forward, you transfer weight to the trailer axles. If a truck is too heavy on the drives, the fifth wheel can be moved forward to place extra weight on the steers, while the trailer axles can be moved forward to add weight to the trailer. Got it? Good. Now, if the trailer axles are too heavy, and you are limited by the bridge formula as to how far you can slide the trailer axle back, then the only option is to have the load reloaded so that the weights and lengths are correct. Another wrinkle is that every state has different length requirement. The measurement is from the king pin (the pin on the trailer that connects to the fifth wheel of the tractor) to the center of the rear axle. You can be legal in one state and illegal in another.

Heres my most recent story.

I loaded a 42,000 lb load in Northampton, PA. The shipper closed at 3:00 pm. I arrived a 3:02. They loaded me anyway. I watched the loader load the truck. I told him about halfway through that I thought it was going to be heavy on the trailer. He was not happy, and only did half of what I asked him to do. He completed the load, and then left. The closest scale for me to weigh the truck was 30 miles away in New Jersey. After scaling the truck I found that I was 3,800 lbs overweight on the trailer. I was 6,000 underweight on the drives. I was also 4,000 under gross (about 76,000 lbs total). At this point I have no choice but to A) Slide the axles and make the weights correct or B) wait until the next morning and go back the 30 miles to the shipper and have it reloaded. By now it is after 5 pm and I have another load that I'm already pre-planned on to pick up. We do not have that option. I made the necessary adjustments and made my way to the receiver. I did note that the only weigh stations on my route were hardly ever open. In fact, from Bloomsbury, NJ to Rhode Island, I've never seen one of the scales open. Never. Not one time. As I crossed the Connecticut state line, I see that the weigh station is open. No problem, right? I'm legal. All my axles are the correct weight. I pull on the scale and out comes the officer with his tape measure. Connecticut only allows 43 feet in length. I am 44 feet 7 inches. He told me to slide my axle forward (which I know will cause me to be overweight) and wait for another officer to write me a citation. He also said, "We are going to cite your company for this. Your name will not be on the ticket." As noted in the picture, the fine for being 1 foot 7 inches over length in $750. My company has informed me that the fine will be mine to pay. The scale closed 10 minutes after I got my ticket.

So let's break this down.

1) On just this trip, I passed at least 4 weigh stations that I've never seen open. How 'safe' are we when those that are tasked with enforcement rarely do so?

2) By being 1 foot 7 inches too long, how much damage will be done to the highway/bridge considering that once I was "legal" the weight of that axle increased by as much as 800-1,000 lbs?

3) What other choices do I have? The shipper is closed. I'm 30 miles away at the time I scale. I have other customers waiting down the line.

4) I earned $850 to carry that load. If I spend $750 to pay that fine, I'm left with $100 to pay myself, my fuel, and my other business expenses. The trip in total was 295 miles. I spent at least $185 just in diesel fuel to get there. My time and effort was worth another $191. We also need to add another $50 for miscellaneous expenses and $32.75 for crossing the Tappan Zee bridge. Total cost of the trip is $459. I made $100. I'm in the hole $359. I also bought $620 worth of fuel at the time I scaled (which will carry me far past the load I'm delivering).

5) How do we calculate that $750 is a fair and equitable fine for this infraction? Either I'm 1 foot 7 inches over length, or I'm 800 lbs overweight. That is worth $750?

6) Will this fine modify my behavior in any way? Not likely. I may insist on not being rushed into a shipper at closing time especially when we know ahead of time that the load is heavy, but I can guarantee you my carrier will still expect me to get the job done no matter what.

7) The shipper has no culpability here? They loaded it, but I am expected to bear the burden. An important note: Even if I was a company driver, an employee, I would likely be expected to pay the fine. A company driver would likely make less than $120 to pull that load. How can he or she afford a $750 fine?

The bigger point here for me is this: Regulations only work when they are obeyed and followed. The most egregious examples of damage done by someone who is distracted or openly disobeying laws and regulations is done by someone who has no regard for anyone else to begin with. No law or regulation can overcome stupidity or laziness.

There is one person who is responsible for your safety and well-being - it is the person you see when you look in a mirror. No one else can or will take responsibility for that. No one else should. There are laws against drunk driving, yet I am ever vigilant to be on the lookout for drunk drivers. Why? Because any fool that will get behind the wheel of a vehicle after they've had too much to drink has absolutely no regard for anyone else anyway. The law only allows for them to be punished. It does nothing to stop them. State after state has enacted laws against texting and driving. Yet when I look down at the car beside me, I see 80% if them with a phone in their hand. Now that the law has been passed, they are even more dangerous as they are looking down at their phone so as to keep it hidden from law enforcement. Write this down - accidents will INCREASE in states that pass texting laws. We are already beginning to see it.

If you desire to be protected on the highway, I suggest you put down the iPhone and the latte and drive.

Here are some tips from someone who has driven over 1,000,000 miles in the highway.

Adjust your mirrors and look at them. You know those shiny things on the side of your car? Those are mirrors. Get to know them. They will keep you out of trouble.

Drive with a way out. Always be thinking about an escape route. That involves not tailgating. A 5-6 second following distance will keep you out of 90% of accidents.

When you encounter an idiot, GET AWAY FROM THEM!

Focus your attention far ahead of you. Scan your mirrors.

Be courteous. If you wish to drive 5 mph under the speed limit, do everyone a favor and evacuate the left lane. Others that wish to go faster than you are going to go faster than you. Deal with it and get out of the way.

For the love of all that is good and Holy, use your cruise control. Maintaining a constant speed will keep you out of harms way (and it will keep you out of my hair). Most big trucks on the highway are governed. The maximum speed for most trucks is set between 60-65 mph. When you lolly about speeding up and then slowing down, you are impeding traffic. You would be amazed to take a ride with me and see that I will cruise along at my max speed of 65 and encounter someone going slower than me. The second that I move to pass, they will see my truck and speed up. I get that no one wants to be behind a big truck. I don't like being behind them. But when you pull this crap, you are creating a rolling road block for everyone else. Pick a speed and go with it.

I don't know if the morons that decide the amounts of these fines think "These companies have lost of money. They can afford to pay it" or if they just don't care and like to throw their power around. Just like any tax or fee that is aimed at "people with money" the cost is passed down the line. Yes, that is a shot at you government-worshippers that think regulations are the be all end all for any problem.

Posted on June 14, 2012 .