Oversize and Overweight Vehicles Must Follow Numerous Specific Rules for Safety
Truck size limitations in the United States are generally specified in federal regulations, especially for trucks operating in the “federal system,” e.g., on interstate highways. Additional or separate limitations may be put in place by the individual states. For example, the maximum loaded weight of a tractor-trailer big rig is 80,000 pounds per federal requirements. The maximum length of a typical “53-foot trailer” under federal rules is — unsurprisingly — 53 feet, and its maximum width is 102 inches. Interestingly, there is no federal height limit on tractor-trailers, though most states place this at 13.5 to 14 feet. While these are hard and fast size and weight limitations, obviously it’s sometimes necessary to move things that are even bigger. When this happens, the resulting vehicle is “oversize” if it exceeds the applicable dimension limits and/or “overweight” if it exceeds the specified maximum load weights. Rules that apply to oversize and overweight vehicles are on a state-by-state basis, so they may vary considerably in their requirements and level of specificity. When a truck accident has occurred involving an oversize or overweight load, it’s crucial for a skilled personal injury lawyer to review the rules that applied at the time of the accident and determine whether the truck driver and commercial carrier followed them properly.
Types of Limits and Requirements Placed on Oversize and Overweight Vehicles
As we noted, rules for oversize and overweight loads may vary considerably from one state to another, but they generally include these categories:
Size and weight limits. In addition to exceeding the federal weight limits (80,000 pounds gross weight, 20,000 pounds on a single axle, 34,000 pounds on a set of tandem axle), the total weight of an overweight vehicle must also be compared with the actual design and practical weight limits of the roads, bridges, and other structures over which the vehicle will move both to verify that the move can occur safely and that the move won’t damage those roads and bridges. For an oversize vehicle, consideration must be taken for the overall length and width of the vehicle versus the overall width of the roadway, size and location of structures near the roadway, turning limits from curves, etc., as well as the height of the oversize vehicle in comparison to overpasses, electrical lines, and other structures under which the vehicle must pass.
Required permits. The primary reason for the permitting process is to verify that the necessary assessments, calculations, and considerations have been made to ensure that the oversize or overweight vehicle can safely move along its planned path. The commercial carrier must show that this has been done, and that the physical weight and dimensions of the vehicle can be accommodated by the capacities and physical limits of the intended route. Other considerations in the permitting process include fuel and rest stops for long distance routes that ensure the oversize/overweight vehicle can be safely moved and parked off-road so as not to interfere with other traffic. For common oversize/overweight loads — for example, mobile homes — the permitting process may be relatively straightforward, while for unusual or exceptionally large loads there may be a significant amount of back and forth between the carrier and the permitting agency to ensure that adequate planning and preparation is in place.
Vehicle lights, reflectors, and markings. State regulations apply to oversize and overweight vehicles will generally involve special signage on vehicle or load, as well as flags, lights, and/or other “conspicuity” markings intended both to increase the visibility of the vehicle to other drivers and to make it clear that vehicle is oversize or overweight. Additional turn signals may be required on especially large vehicles, or even dismounted flagmen to caution or halt other traffic while the oversize vehicle is maneuvered.
Pilot cars and escort cars. Separate vehicles may be required to accompany the oversize or overweight vehicle during its move. Escort cars are typically immediately ahead of or behind the truck and may themselves be required to carry special warning signs, flags, lights, etc., in order to increase their own conspicuity to other drivers and to warn those other drivers of the truck’s presence. Pilot cars may range far ahead (or behind) the truck, in order to scout the route ahead for any unexpected conditions or hazards that may impede the oversize/overweight vehicle or make its passage dangerous. They may temporarily block off intersections while the truck passes, and they and the escort drivers may help guide the truck driver through difficult turns and maneuvers. Obviously, close and careful communication between the truck driver and the drivers of pilot and escort vehicles are key to this process, and they’re typically required to be in radio communication with one another at all times.
Legal Considerations for Truck Accidents with Oversize and Overweight Vehicles
Obviously, anyone operating a motor vehicle is obliged to follow the rules of the road in order to keep our roadways safe. Truck drivers have an additional set of rules to follow — most set in federal regulations that are patterned and followed by the states — to ensure safe operation of their large vehicles. Situations that involve oversize and overweight vehicles have yet another set of rules that the truck driver and escort drivers are required to follow — rules that may vary significantly from one state to another. And because of the sometimes unique nature of the oversize/overweight load and the specific route it is to follow, there may be yet further rules specified in the individual permit issued for the trip.
Verifying the specific federal and state laws for the operation, as well as the event-specific requirements of the permit and comparing these to the facts of what actually happened is a key step for any personal injury attorney who is investigating and analyzing an oversize/overweight vehicle accident that may have caused serious injuries or death.
View this video that displays the challenges of transporting a supersize load — in this case a giant gas tank — and what happens when someone clearly forgot to consider the tilt of the roadway:
Truck Accident Lawyer in California
Hello, my name is Ed Smith, and I am a California truck accident lawyer. One of the first and most crucial steps in any personal injury claim is determining what rules the negligent driver should have been following, and whether or not they did so. For truck accidents involving oversize and overweight loads, there are many more rules and regulations to be followed than even for an ordinary truck driving situation, which itself is more complicated than the general laws for operating motor vehicles. Accurately and thoroughly identifying the applicable rules for a particular oversize/overweight truck accident — and whether the driver and escort crew followed them — is key to successfully concluding any resulting personal injury claim or lawsuit. If you or a family member has suffered a serious injury due to negligence of a truck driver, please contact us today at (916) 921-6400 or toll-free at (800) 404-5400 for free, friendly advice.
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Image by Roy Harryman from Pixabay
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