Commercial trucks are vital to the nation’s economy. Nearly all things consumers purchase are transported across the country at some point by trucks. But the size and weight of large over-the-road trucks pose serious dangers to other motorists on the road. When trucks are overloaded or loaded incorrectly, those dangers are heightened.
The typical eighteen-wheel tractor trailer combination is about 70 to 80 feet long and fully loaded can weigh as much as 40 tons. Compare that to the average weight of an automobile, which is about 5,000 pounds, or two-and-a-half tons. Given this weight differential, the length of time required to stop an eighteen-wheeler is, give or take, 40 percent greater than a car, depending upon the weight of the truck’s cargo.
So the safety needs for controlling how much a truck can carry and how those loads are distributed are obvious. Gross weights of commercial vehicles are regulated by local, state and federal laws. (While states have their own truck load regulations, most trucks driving on the Interstate Highways system – driving across state lines – are subject to federal load specifications.)
Legal Load Factors for Commercial Trucks
Commercial trucks are subject to numerous factors in determining safe load limits, including:
- Gross Combination Weight Rating (GCWR)- the maximum legal weight for a truck and trailer combined, including the cargo, the truck, passengers and fuel
- Gross Axle Weight Rating (GAWR) – how much an axle system can legally carry. Each axle on a truck and a trailer has a maximum weight capacity and the tractor-trailer’s GAWR is defined by the weakest link in the axle system.
So, the overall weight of a truck and its cargo is one consideration in the law. The truck’s load also must be distributed so that one axle or a combination of axle s aren’t overloaded. A truck therefore can meet gross vehicle weight specifications but be in violation of the law if an axle is bearing too much of the overall load.
Dangers of Overloaded or Improperly Loaded Trucks
When a truck is overloaded or improperly loaded, it can affect how the truck handles, which is especially dangerous in rainy or snowy conditions or in emergency stopping situations. Also, overloads and improper loads can trigger excessive wear and tear on tires and brakes, causing them to fail without warning. Trucks operating under these conditions may be subject to rollovers or jackknifes, causing the driver to lose control of the rig.
When a truck exceeds legal loading limits or has its cargo improperly distributed or inadequately secured, it may be deemed unsafe by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration standards and be in violation of the law.
Overloaded Truck Accident Victims May Pursue Compensation
Trucking companies, like any business, seek to make as much profit as possible. One way for them to do this is to maximize the load each truck carries to minimize trips, driver hours, and fuel costs. They certainly have a right to make a profit, but when the illegal or negligent actions of trucking companies or truck drivers harm or kill others, they should be held accountable. Victims of overloaded trucking accidents and their families have the right to contact an attorney and pursue compensation for their injuries or wrongful death.