March 11, 2024

Bill gives states new power to waive truck weight limits


WASHINGTON — Legislation being promoted for giving states more flexibility to waive truck weight limits in an emergency would also give state authorities broad new power to raise weight limits for all kinds of freight, according to a lobby group that opposes overweight trucks.

The legislation, Modernizing Operations for Vehicles in Emergencies (MOVE) Act, introduced last month by U.S. Reps. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., and Jim Costa, D-Calif., is a way to “remove unnecessary roadblocks and red tape” to avert supply chain disruptions such as what occurred during and after the pandemic, according to the bill’s sponsors, both of whom represent agribusiness shippers.

“During times of emergency and the pandemic, struggling communities in my district were hit hardest by roadblocks to our supply chain,” said Costa, whose district includes parts of California’s San Joaquin Valley. “This bipartisan legislation will remove barriers that prevent us from delivering vital relief when communities need it most.”

The MOVE Act expands the circumstances under which the federal government could allow a state to waive federal weight limits along interstate highways for loads “that can easily be dismantled or divided” to include not only natural emergencies involving weather, disease, and wildfires, and other causes but also if supply chains are “substantially impaired in the state, either in terms of slow overall movement, freight traffic congestion, or otherwise,” according to language in the bill.

The legislation would allow such waivers to remain in effect for 270 days, compared to the 120-day maximum under current law, with the ability for states to extend the waivers for another 90 days.

In addition to the American Trucking Associations, the MOVE Act is supported by the Shippers Coalition, whose members include agribusinesses, aggregates, beverage companies and other shippers of heavy cargo that benefits most from higher weight limits.

“The MOVE Act is a necessary step forward in ensuring that Shippers Coalition’s members are able to promptly and efficiently respond in times of crisis,” said Shippers Coalition Executive Director Sean Joyce. “By expanding the definition of an emergency, the legislation guarantees that Americans across the country will continue to have access to essential goods in their times of need.”

Safety concerns raised

But the Coalition Against Bigger Trucks (CABT), which opposes efforts to loosen truck weight limit requirements, sees the MOVE Act as a way to further empower states to raise weight restrictions, which can lead to higher crash rates.

The group points to a 2016 U.S. Department of Transportation report that found heavier trucks have higher crash rates compared to 80,000-pound, single-trailer trucks.

“State governors would have unilateral authority beyond emergencies and natural disasters to arbitrarily increase truck weights based on undefined definitions of supply chain disruptions or freight congestion,” CABT President Brad Roseberry told FreightWaves.

“There’s nothing prohibiting a state to reissue another permit when the initial one expires, so this could go on forever,” he said. It’s basically a blank check for states to raise truck weights — that’s huge.”

Owner operators also cite safety concerns in opposing efforts to raise truck weight limits.

“I’ve hauled for relief efforts before, and if it’s strictly about an emergency relief situation, that’s fine,” said Lee Schmitt, an owner-operator and spokesman for CDL Drivers Unlimited, a truck driver advocacy group.

“But now you’re potentially giving carte blanche to anyone with a trailer to haul heavier loads in equipment that may not be able to handle it. It’s also a safety issue — heavier loads require more distance to start and stop, and not having experience with that can make the roads less safe for everyone.”

Several other proposals aimed at easing truck weight restrictions are also pending in Congress, including a voluntary pilot program that would allow states to increase truck weights on federal interstates from 80,000 pounds to up to 91,000 pounds on six axles, and a proposal that would allow weight increases to 88,000 for certain auto haulers.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.


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