Bill Would Up Truck Weight Limit to 91,000 Pounds

September 10, 2015

By David Cullen

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Image: Federal Highway Administration
Image: Federal Highway Administration
A bill that would allow individual states to increase the federal vehicle weight limit to 91,000 pounds for tractor-trailers equipped with a sixth axle has been introduced by Rep. Reid Ribble (R-WI).

The Safe, Flexible, and Efficient (SAFE) Trucking Act would “allow fewer trucks to move more cargo in a safer manner” via a configuration compliant with the federal bridge formula, Ribble said during a Sept. 10 telephone press briefing. The bill has been loudly applauded by at least six major associations representing the interests of shippers. But, at least initially, it has drawn no support from trucking-specific lobbies.

Ribble said that he plans to introduce the SAFE Act as an amendment to the long-term highway bill so that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to begin marking up soon “so that members can discuss it separately.”

He noted that there is a “fairly broad coalition of members [on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee] who support itfrom both parties, but I will let them speak for themselves” on his bill. “On the Senate side, I expect [including] this act will be worked out during the conference process.”

The bill “would allow our freight shipping industry to be more efficient while creating less pavement wear and tear and improving safety on our shared roads and bridges,” he said. Ribble noted that another aim of the legislation is “to move heavier trucks [allowed in some states] off local and state roads and onto Interstates.”

The congressman emphasized that despite adding up to 11,000 pounds to its GCW limit, such a truck would operate more safely because its mandated sixth axle would provide it with “stopping power equal to or better than that of a five-axle truck.” The bill would also enable the Dept. of Transportation to require additional safety equipment on these heavier trucks.

According to Ribble, the bill was written based on DOT safety and road wear data “to ensure that truck stopping times and pavement wear are as good or better than our current trucks.”  During the call, he specifically referenced data released by DOT as part of its Comprehensive Truck Size and Weight Limits Study, which has yet to be completed.

Ribble told reporters that the SAFE Act seeks a raise GCW limit to 91,000 pounds instead of a figure as high as 97,000 pounds limit that has been sought by some lobbying for heavier trucks “because safety advocate in the past have opposed” going that high and he is “trying to find the sweet spot” that would move the limit up with the most support in Congress. “Their [safety advocates] baseline position has been more weight equates to less safety,” he noted, adding that he expects reaction to the bill “will depend on the actual [safety] group.”

The congressman also said that his measure concerns only single trailers because “when you get into [changing size and weight of] doubles and triples, it gets more complicated. This bill does not touch truck at all. I deliberately did not address that in this bill because I did not want to go down that rabbit trail.”

During the press conference, representatives of several large shipper-based lobbying groups voiced their support for the legislation. \

“Truck travel has grown 22 times faster than road capacity since the federal weight limit was last changed in 1982,” said John Runyan, executive director of the Coalition for Transportation Productivity, which represents nearly 200 manufacturers, shippers, carriers and allied associations CTP. “The Safe Trucking Act safely improves the productivity of truck shipments so we can decrease the truckloads necessary to meet demand and make our entire transportation network more efficient.”

Runyan stated that by requiring an additional axle, the bill’s tractor-trailer configuration has “consistently been proven to safely ship more goods while braking faster, polluting less, reducing pavement wear and being safe for Interstate bridges. Our major trading partners are already safely utilizing these trucks to increase efficiency and reduce truckloads. Now it’s up to Congress to give states the flexibility to put them to work.”

According to CTP, the DOT size-and-weight study recently found that “six-axle trucks can safely weigh up 91,000 pounds while yielding significant truckload reductions, pavement wear savings and environmental efficiency benefits.”

The group also said that DOT has “stated that the configuration is federal bridge formula compliant, meaning that it meets weight distribution requirements for vehicles traveling on bridges on the Interstate Highway System, and that wide use of the Safe Trucking Act configuration would not cause any increase in one-time rehabilitation costs for Interstate bridges.”

“It’s also important to recognize that more than 90 percent of states allow trucks which are heavier than the federal weight limit to travel on state roads, often on just five axles,” Runyan pointed out. “The Safe Trucking Act gives these states a critical opportunity to promote the use of safer, six-axle vehicles while transitioning heavier traffic to more capable Interstate highways for at least a portion of their route.”

The bill addresses the issues of “the freight capacity shortage, the driver shortage and highway congestion,” said Robyn Boersling, Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. “Freight volume, international trade and the U.S. population are all projected to grow, requiring each modes [of transportation] to operate as efficiently as possible. But there’s been no change in highway weight limits. By giving a voice to states, the SAFE Act is an effective way of modernizing the freight system.”

“DOT weight limits now require [dairy] trucks to leave plants half empty,” said Connie Tipton, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association. “This act would safely modernize freight transportation on our highways.”

According to IDFA, “by raising the federal gross vehicle weight limit for trucks equipped with six axles rather than the typical five and giving states the flexibility to utilize these trucks where they see fit, the Safe Trucking Act would safely modernize truck shipments on Interstate highways by allowing trucks to carry more product and thereby reducing the number of trucks on our roadways.”

"The current patchwork of varying maximum weights compels dairy marketers to transport partially empty loads of milk,” said Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, in a statement. “This uses more fuel, creates more congestion and increases the costs of maintaining roads. Common sense changes like those included in the Safe Trucking Act will improve the efficiency and sustainability of the U.S. dairy industry."

Donna Harman, President and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association said that “available truck capacity has dropped by 16% since 2008 and that “affects us moving raw materials and finished goods.

“With the higher weight limit, the space in trucks will be used more efficiently and the number of truck trips for forest products could be reduced by approximately 1.4 million each year,” she added. “This legislation will reduce miles traveled and improve highway safety.”

Clearly, shippers are onboard with the SAFE Act. Whether trucking is remains to be seen.

Asked by HDT if the American Trucking Associations had any reaction to the bill, ATA spokesperson Sean McNally replied, “No, we don’t.”

The Trucking Alliance, a coalition of trucking businesses that lobbies for safety improvements, was succinct in its critique of the bill. “This legislation wasn't written to benefit trucking companies, because it would drive up operating costs, drive down truck driver wages and curtail investments in safety technologies,” Lane Kidd, the Alliance’s Managing Director, told HDT




  1. 1. Bruce [ September 11, 2015 @ 06:51AM ]

    What they have not thought of is the trailers are not design for that much weight. You will have to order all new trailers to be able to have the third axle.
    A dry bulk trailer has to have heavy gauge aluminum to have that much weight put on it which makes every trailer heavery to begin with plus the third axle.
    The best weight would be around 84,000 lbs that every trailer could handle now with out buying new equipment

  2. 2. john [ September 11, 2015 @ 01:52PM ]

    Seriously. Wisconsin people need to vote out this guy. We should be hauling less weight for more money.

  3. 3. Gert [ September 11, 2015 @ 02:09PM ]

    We are the least efficient country in the world relative to freight movement on trucks. At 80,000 pounds, we are dead last. All of the other countries have figured this out since 1982 and have GVW's higher than ours, except the USA. Getting more efficient is a good thing. Keeps us competitive here and keeps jobs here. That is what makes America great.

  4. 4. Steve [ September 11, 2015 @ 05:27PM ]

    I'm for it. Of course, with the new weights and new responsibilities should come better rates and more driver pay. I also have no problem with them stipulating stricter driver requirements and a minimum experience threshold for the higher weights. Entry level drivers should not run heavy.

    I operate Thruway tandems grossing out at 143,000 lbs. on 9 axles. I have to have an excellent safety record and a minimum of 5 years of experience ( I have 34 ) to do this.

    Trailers can be designed for the weight, and we have a dedicated fleet of tri-axle trailers running from Massachusetts to Maine already, and a good sucess story behind it.

  5. 5. Carmine [ September 12, 2015 @ 05:44AM ]

    these people are nuts .. I've been driving 25 years and I hate pulling 75,000 on a tractor trailer .. It's too dangerous ... I had also hope they would lower it .. Expect more accidents with more deaths ... Companies don't care because they are not the ones driving .. We stupid law makers .. Too much responsibility on the driver ...

  6. 6. Chris [ September 12, 2015 @ 12:52PM ]

    It would help out with some of my customers who were used to shipping 25 tons and have had to reduce their shipments due to the heavier new trucks that are being made now. I don't think it's for everyone though, need to have good experience with heavier loads in my opinion.

  7. 7. Brad [ September 12, 2015 @ 06:55PM ]

    This is standard practice in Australia, most of our 6 axle trucks have a GCW of just over 94,000. our B doubles can go up to 143,000, with proper training and safety procedures it is quite safe and more efficient

  8. 8. Brian [ September 12, 2015 @ 07:05PM ]

    North dakota is at 105500..Montana is based off of axles group's. 9 axles and lenght..125000.cant remember exactly. ..

  9. 9. Robert [ September 13, 2015 @ 07:30AM ]

    Something tells me this is all about driver's shortage, Michigan at 148000 and there complaining about the damage to the roads. And it a snow job if they think it's good for the environment . We are lucky to get a little over 5 mpg . And you would think, hey more axles, better stopping. In my opinion. With 10 axles, it takes about the same distance as an 5 axle. And even worst on snow and ice

  10. 10. Richard [ September 15, 2015 @ 09:50AM ]

    More weight=more freight to load and unload while the driver waits longer with no pay.
    I can just imagine what a couple of these "Training" companies will will be causing accident wise with this added weight and their student solo drivers.

  11. 11. Dennis O. Taylor [ September 17, 2015 @ 11:59AM ]

    Addressing Robert's comment above: it is true that as you add weight, it is typical for MPG to decrease compared to operating it at lighter loads. However, the "(Gross)Ton-Miles per Gallon" figure will increase. I submit that the industry needs to focus on "NET_Ton-miles/Gallon). Heavier tractors (and trailers) show up in the tare weight, so the impact of additional tractor (or trailer) weight, without any offsetting benefit, is detrimental to Net_Ton-Miles/Gallon. The truck owner's goal is to carry more freight (NET_tons) per gallon of fuel burned, yet be safe and not tear up the highways. Note that the engine has to work a little bit harder with extra load and axle(s) as well. So that would affect maintenance costs of the entire powertrain. And, don't forget about 2 (or more) additional sets of tires and brakes. That also shows up in the "operating costs" column.

  12. 12. Dan [ September 18, 2015 @ 06:41AM ]

    A lot of well thought out efficiency, but it's about getting us to haul more freight FOR LESS REVENUE.

  13. 13. mike [ September 18, 2015 @ 06:58AM ]

    Raising the gross weight,will be another mistake like the speed limiter will be.

  14. 14. Robert Kirby [ September 18, 2015 @ 07:21AM ]

    As a trucker I can tell you this ranks right at the top of stupid ideas. We have bridges dropping out from under us now and this sell out to the lobbyists is wanting to ad more weight. Stupid stupid stupid idea he has never seen the inside of a truck that is obvious. Hey Reid get in a truck with me for a day let me take you up i65 north through Indiana you will see first how stupid this idea is.

  15. 15. Richard [ September 18, 2015 @ 07:42AM ]

    Wasn't this same argument about less trucks being on the roads made when the industry went from 48' trailers to 53' trailers? Today it seems there are more trucks than ever on the road.

    Can you imagine what trying to turn around in a tight docking space will be like? The tire scrub on a tandem axle is bad enough, tri-axles are going to be brutal on pavement, non-pavement. Things are going to break even more

  16. 16. MpG [ September 18, 2015 @ 11:12AM ]

    Consider that most of Canada can run 91000lbs on a tandem setup, and yet miraculously the roads aren't self-destructing, and there isn't a glut of tractor-trailer accidents everywhere. Fewer road gators too, I might add. It isn't the gross-weight that causes the accidents.

    But really, between the extra axle and the vehicle reinforcement, you can generally figure on 3000lbs more tare weight when going from a tandem to a tridem, so this works out to a net improvement of around 8000lbs actual cargo. And that's only on loads that gross out instead of cube out. I really don't know why they'd even bother going to the trouble. The country's infrastructure funding is uncertain from month to month, and collapsing bridges barely make the news unless it's an Interstate. They need to get their priorities in order.

  17. 17. mike [ September 18, 2015 @ 11:48AM ]

    no one has even asked about the States that do not raise their limit. legal national limit is 80,000 . Some States have a grace limit and let you run at 81,000 but then if you are over that they fine you back to 80,000. Maryland has that law only it works in reverse. They will let you run 79000 with the grace up to 80,000 and after that they fine you. So,I am going from Massachusetts to Maine and I have to cross that 16 mile stretch of New Hampshire . Now if they don't raise their limit to accomidate the new 91,000 pound limit then everyone going through will be hauled over for being overweight .

  18. 18. Don [ September 19, 2015 @ 10:54AM ]

    In what world would this lead to fewer trucks on the road?!?!? All this will do is appease greedy shippers wanting to load more freight on trailers..... and thus adding pressure on trucking companies with BS demands of "if you cannot take the weight the do not send your truck truck". Also, heavier freight means greater fuel taxes, which in states like NY and GA means more funding for local governing bodies to spend on......... Yep you guessed it, nothing to do with transpirtation or infrastructure! Am I just being cynical??

  19. 19. Andrew [ September 20, 2015 @ 06:59AM ]

    Okay. So they're wanting trucks to be super fuel efficient, right? So it seems insensible to throw on even more weight, not to mention the increase in tolls from the extra axle, and maintenance. To me this seems more like a money grab than a solution to overcrowding of docks.

  20. 20. silent farms transit [ September 27, 2015 @ 10:02AM ]

    haul more weight isn't the problem, problem is the shippers and receivers, who insist to keep on take they time on loading and unloading and weight stations all over the country who seems to ""qualify"" certain types of haulers as permanent candidates for inspection, US DOT/ FMCSA shoal get some one who really understands trucking business, and not those bureaucrats who had never even got inside a truck much less understand its business, i am 30 years driver veteran and the corruption, in this business discussing me, every one wants to make more money, while us drivers working as slaves for brokers and shippers. is no wonder why the industry is short on new candidates das drivers, and the few that comes around are barely qualified, causing all types of trouble in the industry, we just need to be consideres, respected and better managed by this fallen government,

  21. 21. BILL [ October 01, 2015 @ 02:09PM ]


  22. 22. Ken [ October 01, 2015 @ 02:20PM ]

    This weight increase would benefit everyone EXCEPT the CARRIER. The new trucks today are already killing us. Thousand dollar injectors, five to ten thousand dollar EGR, particulate trap and turbo breakdowns. Not only do they burn 20% more fuel, engine overhauls are now running $25000 to $35000 and only run a third of the miles. It is difficult to read about pie in the sky great new inventions such as driverless trucks. What we need are solutions to todays problems NOW!


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