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Truckers Finally Catch a Break on Misloads (or do they?)

August 12, 2005

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Neill T. Riddell

Article Originally Published: August 2005

The information contained in this article is not intended to be legal advice. Readers should not act or rely on this information without consulting an attorney.

The misload has been a disputed issue on overweight tickets for years.

Current statutory provisions authorize discretionary relief for “misloaded” units – those which exceed permitted weights on individual axles but still are under the legal gross weight for the entire unit. Many judges (and even more prosecutors and enforcement officers), however, refuse to cut truckers a break on misloads, instead pushing for higher fines under Michigan’s graduated per-axle fine schedule.

Under amendments effective January 1, 2006, however, the entire concept of “discretion” will vanish from the misload lexicon. Courts will be required to assess fines on a mislead basis whenever a truck meets clearly stated tests.

Finally. Truckers catch a break. Or, maybe not.

You see, a funny thing happened on the way to passage of the amendments. The intended “fix” may end up biting truckers in the, err, wallet. Sad but true, the new language produces higher, not lower, fines in many common misload situations.

The new language is easily understood. It describes three categories of overweights, setting the fines for each.

If you are over gross, there is no change. You pay under the existing fine schedule, so much per pound in excess of the maximum legal on an axle.

If under gross, with no axle more than 4,000 lbs over legal, you pay the mandatory misload fine: $200 for each axle over legal, up to a maximum of 3 axles ($600 max). While more than the prior misload fine of $250, the amendment ends the “we don’t do misloads” attitude prevalent in many jurisdictions.

The final category involves under gross units having an axle more than 4,000 lbs. over the legal max. Pre-amendment, you may have been able to get a misload. In the right court. On the right day. This will no longer be the case. The amendment mandates that this category shall (no discretion) be treated as an over gross vehicle for fine purposes; i.e., under the normal fine schedule.

Facially, this all appears reasonable and, again, has the virtue of clarity. Lurking, however, is the prospect of mandatory fines exceeding the maximums under the pre-amendment approach. For example, think about an under gross truck having three axles which are each 3,000 lbs. over legal max. Post-amendment, this will be a misload with a $600 (3 x $200) fine. Pre-amendment, the maximum fine would have been $540 (6¢/lb x 3000 for each of the three axles).

That may not be much of a difference but, interestingly, the discrepancy increases as the amount of the overweight decreases.

If an under gross unit has three axles, each of which are 2000 lbs. over legal max, the post-amendment misload fine is $600. Pre-amendment, however, the maximum fine (whether or not over gross) would have been no more than $90.

Here is where it could get scary if facing an overzealous enforcement agency. Pre-amendment, there was no fine, whether under or over gross, if the excess weight on any axle did not exceed 1,000 lbs. Post-amendment, however, if under gross, you will pay $200 for each such axle, up to a maximum of $600.

While serious overweights catch everyone’s attention, few truckers run into such problems absent equipment problems or undetectable/ uncontrollable load distributions. But, many truckers encounter situations where, although under gross, they are slightly over on several axles.

In the past, that was no big deal. Starting January 1, 2006, that could be $600.

For this reason, it is important all carriers, and their attorneys, continue to explore those defenses left untouched by the recent amendments.