New Law Increases Truck Weights on Georgia Roads

Georgia lawmakers have struck an agreement to increase the weight limit for some trucks traveling state highways. Governor Brian Kemp signed the measure into law in April, and the greater weight allowances went into effect in May.

House and Senate negotiators reached a compromise on the last day of the 2023 legislative session, and the Senate cast the final vote after midnight. A crucial component of the deal was that the higher weight limits would expire on July 1, 2025.

How Does the New Law Affect Semis?

House Bill 189 permits trucks carrying logging and farming commodities to weigh more than the existing limit of 84,000 pounds. In fact, the previous limit on state roads is 80,000 pounds; however, trucks are allowed a variance of up to 84,000 pounds. The increased weight would be allowed only on local roads and state highways. It does not apply to interstates. Trucks remain limited to 80,000 pounds on interstate highways.

In addition, these heavier trucks could only travel within a 150-mile radius of their point of origin and would not be allowed in 13 core metro Atlanta counties.

Truck weights in Georgia have been enforced only by the state Motor Carrier Compliance Division. However, the law lets local police and sheriff’s departments to write tickets for overweight trucks stopped on local roadways. Weight enforcement on the interstate and state routes will stay within the purview of state officers. But prior to  local police officers enforcing weight limits, they’ll have to have additional training by the state. The county or city would also have to purchase new equipment, such as portable scales.

Also, pre-existing state law requires any overweight fines go to the state; so, the local jurisdiction couldn’t keep the money.

Criticism of the New Law Cite Safety Concerns

The statewide associations for city and county governments, road safety advocates, and state departments for transportation and public safety said that the heavier loads were a threat to public safety and increased wear on the state’s roadways.

The chief engineer with the Georgia Department of Transportation said the bill was deeply troubling and explained that the legislation would double the number of bridges that restrict load sizes. The new weight limit would mean more than 2,800 bridges will have weight restrictions, resulting more frequent detours for tractor trailers drivers. In addition, opponents of the bill said there may be more crashes because of increased stopping distance.

Moreover, Georgia Commissioner of Transportation Russell McMurry said his agency would be required to redirect funds from critical highway projects to repair the damage the law would cause. This would cost the DOT approximately $500 million a year to rebuild state roads that would be damaged because of the higher truck weights and $7 billion to replace 1,408 bridges that would be posted as unsafe for heavier trucks.

The debate over truck weights saw a fight with logging, farming, and trucking groups. Those groups asserted that they could save money by hauling more freight per trip. Loggers argued the change could make the difference between profit and loss in their low-margin industry.

The U.S. Department of Transportation found that the bigger tractor-trailers crashed at 47% higher rates than the 80,000-pound trucks and that the bigger vehicles caused $1 billion more in bridge repairs.

Similarly, supervisors with the Georgia Department of Public Safety Motor Carrier Compliance Division testified at hearings early this year about concerns with having sufficient staffing to enforce the new limits and about the dangers of bigger rigs that are harder to brake even in ideal driving conditions. According to the Department of Public Safety, there has been an increase of approximately 15% in fatal crashes involving commercial vehicles over the past 12 months, and 2022 was a record year for deaths, with 52 truck drivers and 11 passengers.

Governor Kemp had been allowing heavy trucks that get special permits to haul up to 95,000 pounds under a supply chain emergency order that he repeatedly renewed. However, that order finally expired on March 11th, so the limit went back to 84,000 pounds.

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