What should drivers expect at a weigh station stop?

Truck weigh station in Greenwich Township, N.J.

Unless a truck is equipped with a bypass preclearance device, most states require commercial vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds to stop at every weigh station along the truck’s route. What can a driver expect at a station?

In addition to rolling over a weigh-in-motion scale to ensure the truck is operating under federal and/or state weight limits, drivers should be prepared for some level of inspection. And it usually starts as soon as the truck enters the facility.

“When you’re reporting to a weigh station, there’s a handful of things that are likely being checked before you even get to the scales,” Collin Mooney, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), told FreightWaves.

“As the vehicles are on the approach ramp, there are license plate readers and [Department of Transportation number] readers all being captured and run against databases for motor carrier safety ratings and scores. It’s something drivers won’t see because it’s occurring on the back-end administrative side of things.”

As vehicles roll over the scale, Mooney explained, inspectors are also looking at the overall condition of the vehicle, such as tires, how cargo is being secured and lights. The driver may then be told to move to another area for a more thorough inspection — Level 1 (full), Level 2 (walk-around), or Level 3 (driver-only).

“I would say the large majority of inspections will be Level 1,” Mooney said. “Once the truck is pulled around back, the inspector will start off looking at the driver’s hours-of-service records. The inspector then can make the decision of whether to do just a Level 3, bump it up to a Level 2, or a full Level 1.”

U.S. roadside inspection activity FY2021*

Inspection level Federal State Total
Level 1 (full) 25,848 846,951 872,799
Level 2 (walk-around) 2,923 992,316 995,239
Level 3 (driver only) 2,880 893,391 896,271
Level 4 (special study) 0 11,246 11,246
Level 5 (terminal/vehicle only) 912 100,319 101,231
Level 6 (radioactive materials) 0 603 603
Total 32,563 2,844,826 2,877,389
Driver out-of-service rate 1.98% 5.93% 5.89%
Vehicle out-of-service rate 18.02% 21.15% 21.10%
Hazmat out-of-service rate 4.65% 4.39% 4.40%
*Oct. 1, 2020 – Sept. 30, 2021. Source: FMCSA

An exception to a Level 1-3 inspection would be when a state is doing a special check for something specific, such as an hours-of-service check, Mooney noted, considered a Level 4 inspection.

Because states have different laws and safety guidelines regulating truck weights, drivers can expect to encounter weigh stations near state borders, points out the New England Tractor Trailer Training School (NETTTS). The training school notes that many states also use portable scales that allow weigh stations to be set up in any location that is large enough to accommodate trucks.

“Portable scales allow DOT and state inspectors to set up seasonal and temporary check points near isolated roads with a high amount of truck traffic,” according to NETTTS. “Temporary check points also help prevent truck drivers from avoiding weigh stations.”

The school warns that drivers who decide not to stop risk being pulled over by law enforcement waiting near the highway reentry ramp. They could then be ticketed and required to return to the scale.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently began a study on weigh station bypass/preclearance systems to assess the safety benefits to the trucking industry, including crash reduction, injuries avoided and lives saved. An FMCSA source said the study has not yet been completed.

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