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Weigh Station 101: The Rules and Bypass Programs

weigh station truck scales road sign the tips and rules for weigh stations, fines and bypass programs in us and canada, answering what is a weigh stationNothing quite like getting on the road and getting some good miles in, and then needing to pull over for the scales. Weigh stations can be a pain, no matter which side of the road you’re on. It takes time away from the driving schedule and is another added stop for the already stressed truck driver, but the scales do serve a strong purpose: They are there to ensure the truck is safe and poses no risk to the driver or those around them. Don’t waste your time trying to avoid them, because the consequences can be brutal. Here is what you need to know about weigh stations so you can save time and money moving forward.

The Purpose of Weigh Stations:

Commercial vehicles are required to stop along at weigh stations (truck scales) found along the highway or interstate. The purpose of this is to ensure that regulations are followed, as under most circumstances trucks cannot weight more than 80,000lbs when loaded fully. Some loads can be exempt but only for that specific trip, and it is usually items which can’t be separated into different loads.

The reason weigh stations exist is safety, because heavy trucks are harder to control and are also more dangerous for the roads, and other drivers. This is especially true now as we head into Winter, because the road conditions do not favor a large vehicle like a semi truck. As a result, weigh stations exist to inspect and weigh the truck and ensure that all cargo is being transported safely and in accordance with regulations.

How Does Heaviness or Weight Affect a Truck?

Heavy trucks that are beyond their weight limit are more likely to rollover, and also require much more distance to stop. This is difficult to navigate for any driver, even the most experienced. A truck which has been loaded above capacity is also exerting a lot of pressure onto the tires, which can result in tires blowing out, causing dangerous results to the driver and others on the highway. Remember, issues with your tires can lead to accidents, rollovers and even fire. In order to ensure safety, trucks need to abide by weight regulations. 

Weigh Station Process: 

Phase 1: When driving on the highway, you will likely notice a sign indicating a weigh station coming up. When you are within about half a mile from the weigh station, you will see signs showing whether it is open or closed. If closed then you do not have to stop. If it is open, the driver gets into the lane to exit and line up for the scale. Some scales are rolling scales while others you have to stop, so read the indicators at each scale to know what you are supposed to do.

Phase 2: As you head onto the scale, make sure the speed limit is followed, you can’t just speed through. The scale will show directions about stopping or slowing down. At times you may be asked to stop for further inspection, where they will look at the axles and/or equipment. Your license plate and DOT number are checked via camera and into a computerized system as you pull in.

Phase 3: If you pass the weigh station inspection, your DOT number is added into a computer system to make sure that your data is accurate as well as your log. Your log book and safety rating may be looked at. From there you will be released to go and all is good.

You cannot drive off, you must stop at an open weigh station when you see one, as there are cameras which can catch you, and you risk losing your CDL license or getting fines. If you miss a station you also may be pulled over by officials and returned to the weigh station, to face a Level 1 DOT inspection. 

What Happens if You’re Overweight?

If your truck is assessed to be over the weight limit, you will be pulled to the side and held at the station until another truck can either come and take part of the load or other solutions are determined.  You won’t be allowed back on the road until the issues are fixed. Be careful because some states also suggest jail time for these offenses if they are extreme.

You are subject to fines if you are found to be overweight at a weigh station, and this varies by case and by state or province. Some fines can be thousands of dollars (even $10,000 or over). If you are a repeat offender you will be charged double or more the standard fine as well.

Here is an example of a fine schedule, or general guide to the range in fines across US and Canada. The amount paid would usually be $100 general surcharge + the fine listed. These numbers can regularly change per province or state, so research the regulations of the area you are heading into.
Alberta (CA) Up to 2000lbs excess $95
Minnesota (US) Up to 999lbs excess  $50 + general surcharge of $75
Pennsylvania (US) Up to 1000lbs excess  $162
Oklahoma (US) Up to 2000lbs excess $208.90
Virginia (US) Up to 2000lbs excess $.01 cents per lb of excess 
Nova Scotia (CA) Up to 5510lbs or less excess  $1.25 per each 110lbs overweight 
Texas (US)  Up to 2500lbs or less excess  $100-500 range 
Florida (US) Up to 200lbs and above excess $0.05 cents per lb of excess 

What Inspections Can Be Done at a Weigh Station?

Your truck getting weighed is only one part of what could happen at a weigh station. You could see your log book (ELD) checked, as well as a detailed inspection of the truck. Some other things which may be checked during inspection are:

  • Leaking fluids (antifreeze, windshield, fuel, oil)
  • Brakes
  • Wheels/Tires
  • Springs
  • Kingpin
  • Tubing/Hoses

Another reason why keeping up on top of you pre trip and post trip inspections is important. Anytime you are on the road, you may be subject to inspections as you encounter a weigh station or DOT.

How to Prepare for a Weigh Station:

The best way to stay ready for inspections or a weigh station is to follow the guidelines and complete your pre-trip inspections. Remain kind to the weigh station staff and do not rush. Also understand that weigh station rules vary by state or province, so you need to look ahead of time into where you may be heading. These rules are tied to when/where to stop, but usually over 10,000lb commercial vehicles will need to stop at the scales. 

Word of Advice: Keep in mind that the driver is responsible for driving violations unless your company specifies ahead of time that you are not. This means you will have to pay any fines you may get. 

weigh station bypass program compliance tips for usa and canada zipmentsWhat are the Options When it Comes to Weigh Stations? 

Virtual Weigh Stations

We are entering a modern age where we are seeing more virtual weighs stations happening. This is where you can drive through without stopping and you are weighed and assessed, kind of like a red light camera.  These are not yet the norm everywhere, so you still should expect to see a few stations where you have to stop.

Bypass or PrePass Programs 

Technology now allows for features like a PrePass (or bypass service), which makes for a speedier weigh station experience. In recent years we have seen a rise in these programs, allowing drivers to potentially skip the station while staying compliant, usually as a reward for those with good safety scores.  In order to qualify, you have to sign up or apply for the bypass solution program, and your fleet has to be approved. A fleet has to qualify under the ISS system (Inspection Selection System). You do need to have a good ISS/CSA score to be eligible.

The technology analyzes:

  • Vehicle VIN number
  • License
  • DOT number
  • Truck weight as well as the ISS score.

Well known Prepass providers began initially by using transponders, which meant that when the vehicles passed within a mile from the weigh station, radio frequency would register the vehicles in the area. While this method works, drivers need to keep in mind that they have to merge quickly into the right lane to drive under these transponder reader poles, which can be dangerous and difficult depending on traffic conditions. The driver also has to have a transponder in their vehicle, for this to work. 

However, technology no longer works only with a transponder. It is becoming more accessible to drivers. Since 2013, FMCSA has allowed smartphones or technology to replace the older transponder method, with Drivewyze being one of the first to adopt this method. This means that the weigh station bypass provider creates a virtual geofence which then uses the smartphone technology to allow for transmission of ISS data and the time or location of the vehicles visit. This means that the driver can use their smartphone and transmit data via app.

You can save a lot of money yearly on fuel as well as time, when it comes to using these programs because they allow you to drive by and not have to stop and pull into weigh stations. Idling time and fuel usage are reduced as a result.

So what are some apps or systems you can use, as per DOT

  • PrePass; includes the app and transponder, electronic toll payment and safety score data management.
  • Transponders; the traditional method which shows green or red lights, and red means requirements are not met and you need to pull into the station.
  • Drivewyze PreClear; an app that allows drivers to use their smartphone or tablet. You will see  a Bypass screen letting you know you can pass through. If not, you’ll see a pull in unless closed screen show up.

This means heavy vehicles which are not registered in PrePass or Drivewyze type software are then required to pass through weigh stations if they are open.

The best way to deal with a weigh station is with a smile on your face and the confidence that you’re in first-rate shape. No driver wants to stop and have to pull over for a weight check, however, weigh stations ensure safety, and you will avoid hefty fines and potential time off the road if you comply with the regulations. Now that you know what to expect, you can prepare your vehicle. Pack your patience, your manners and a sense of humor. You’ll need all three to pass through the weigh station without any issues! 

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