Size And Weight Limits

Size And Weight Limits

Copyright 2004, Traffic World, Inc.


A friend who is a trucker is under the impression he can handle loads of 47,000 to 50,000 pounds, because he is using 53-foot trailers. These are over-the-road shipments. I always understood that most states have a limit of 45,000 pounds gross and the size of the trailer is of no consequence.

Am I correct?


No, I''m afraid you''re mostly not.

"The maximum gross vehicle weight shall be 80,000 pounds...." ; Code of Federal Regulations, 49 CFR ? 658.17(b). This applies to "the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways and reasonable access thereto"; 49 CFR ? 658.17(a). Further, "States may not enforce on the Interstate System [and access roads] vehicle weight limits" different from the Federally mandated limits"; 49 CFR ? 658.17(f).

You are, however, correct that differences are not established based on trailer length. Trailer length may affect application of the limits which, in addition to the 80,000-pound gross vehicle weight, include limitations per axle (20,000 pounds) and per tandem axle (34,000 pounds) as well as a rather complicated "bridge formula" that allocates weight to the axles based in part on their distances from each other, but otherwise the limit is without regard to size.

However, given that these regulations will cover most over-the-road movements, it''s unlikely that a 47,000-50,000 pound load would violate any of the regulations.

Using Another''s Base Tariff


I know it''s illegal for competitors to work together to set prices, or even discuss pricing. However, I''ve also heard that there is limited antitrust immunity afforded the transportation industry, which allows such things as rate bureaus to exist and freight classifications to be determined mutually.

I''m trying to determine the feasibility of using another (major) carrier''s rate basis for our pricing. There would be no collusion, as both the major carrier and we would establish our own discount level. Is this legal? Would we run into some other roadblock, such as their rates being trademark restricted?


The short answer is that almost certainly you can use the major carrier''s rate structure. But let me clarify a few misconceptions in your e-mail to me.

First, the limited immunity from antitrust law has nothing to do with your situation.

Under 49 U.S.C. ?13703, the Surface Transportation Board may in its discretion extend antitrust immunity for "collective ratemaking" to formally established rate bureaus and motor carrier associations. These organizations must obtain STB approval of their constitutional agreements and bylaws, and comply with any conditions that the board chooses to impose.

These structures allow all bureau members to sit down together and hammer out base rates, accessorial charges, classifications, service terms and other base pricing agreements that are published in tariffs which, unlike those of individual carriers, are subject to STB review. Only those carriers that are members of the bureaus or otherwise "participate" in the tariffs (by paying participatory fees) are permitted legally to apply these rates, charges, service terms, etc., specified therein; see, e.g., Security Services v. Kmart, 511 U.S. 431 (1994). And only carriers who are members of these few bureaus recognized by STB may take part in such pricing discussions; there is no immunity available for competing carriers to agree on pricing in any other context.

But what you''re talking about is a kind of "me-too" pricing that is not generically prohibited by antitrust statutes.

Your big competitor sets its rates independently; rather than enter into rate warfare you can''t hope to win, you set your rates at the same level and rely on service, flexibility and/or other noneconomic factors in your marketing strategy. In general that''s quite legal (though in a few specific contexts it''s been found illegal as an anticompetitive subterfuge for more extensive agreements).

Now, it would be a bit silly to require you to copy over the big competitor''s entire structure and present it as your own tariff; that would be elevating form over substance to no purpose other than supporting the paper industry. So under the law, there''s no difference between your doing all that wasteful work and simply applying the big carrier''s own tariff.

There remain just two obstacles. First, the big carrier has a copyright (not "trademark") on its tariff; you can''t even reproduce it, let alone use it, without that carrier''s permission. Second, if you elect to use the tariff you must "participate" in it, per Kmart. So you need this permission.

Not to worry. Most major carriers are delighted to have others use their tariffs; it gives them a marketing boost. You named this carrier, and I know it to be of that view. So simply contact the carrier and ask to be a participant; I''m sure it will oblige you.

As to setting your own discounts independently, this is a right guaranteed by law even for rate bureau participants as well as anyone who uses another carrier''s tariff; 49 U.S.C. ? 13703(a)(1)(H)(4). You''re entirely free to do this off the major carrier''s base rates.

-- Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at P.O. Box 76, Morganton, Ga. 30560; phone, (706) 374-7201; fax, (706) 374-7202; e-mail, Contact him to order the 536-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2001, at $80 plus shipping.