The Use of Portable Scales – Part Two

Driving an eighty-thousand-pound vehicle is not something to be taken lightly.  It takes skill, training, patience and is a huge responsibility. Understand it took the driver of this rolling mobile office far more effort than simply walking into a trucking company asking for a job.  If truck drivers are going to be held to a higher standard than the average motorist tooling down the road, shouldn’t the police officers charged with holding truckers accountable be held to a higher standard as well?  Absolutely, and proper use of portable scales is a great place to start.

The first step police officers can take to make sure they are doing things correctly is to step up and be trained by the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association. Twenty-three officers participated in the ITEA’s 40-hour Basic Truck Enforcement Officer class this past week.

These officers, from all over the State of Illinois, decided their authority should protect the industry from erroneous enforcement. Part of their training was to be certified in the use of portable scales.

Level Ground

Here’s the truth – police officers are not required to weigh vehicles on a level surface. Should they? Yes.  Does the ITEA teach this? Yes. The question begging to be answered is, “Why aren’t police officers required to weigh vehicles on a level surface?” Unfortunately, the ITEA doesn’t have an answer. Nor does anyone else because this concept is not law.

If platform and in-ground axle scales are installed level, shouldn’t portable scales be used on a level surface as well? The ITEA teaches their students to weigh on reasonably level surfaces because there is no perfectly level pavement. Being held to a higher standard means conducting enforcement that weighs in favor of the industry.

Inclement Weather

As summer approaches, the use of portable scales increases. Some “fair weather” officers will not use portable scales in the rain or bitter cold. They may tell you it is unsafe (which on occasion it can be), but if they’re honest, they don’t want to get wet or freeze their police mittens off.

There are no laws prohibiting the use of portable scales in bad weather. However, portable scales do have a tendency to ‘spit out’ when the roads are wet. This can create a dangerous situation for the police officers and vehicles near the truck being weighed. If portable scales are to be used in these conditions, due care must be taken.

Axle by Axle Weighing

Because enforcement of weight laws is not commerce, the rules of the NIST 44 Handbook discussed last week is irrelevant. Axle by axle weighing is commonplace when police officers use in ground scales. In many situations, it is necessary so the vehicle can be checked for compliance with individual axle weight and the Federal Bridge Formula.

Police officers can use portable scales for axle by axle weighing too. However, it is imperative they keep all axles within a group (such as a tandem or triple) level at the same time using other scales or dummy pads. Further, axle by axle means the whole axle. A police officer must weigh all wheels on an axle simultaneously. He cannot weigh only one wheel at a time.

Adjustable Axles

Adjustable axles can be confusing for police officers, and most truckers are unaware of the laws surrounding adjustable axles. Why? Because there are no such rules or laws in Illinois. None.

The Illinois Vehicle Code has more than 700 pages and adjustable axles are never mentioned. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations only mentions them once, and only to speak of locking pins. In the absence of governance, how do police officers properly weigh adjustable axles?

Adjustable axles come in many different varieties. Some are controlled by air pressure, some by hydraulic fluid. Some are operated at the axle itself, others from within the cab. Some adjustable have dual tires and some are singles. The best way to weigh trucks when an adjustable axle is engaged is to treat them like every other axle – level!

If the truck is being weighed to check individual axles, it’s best if all axles are level through the use of scales and dummy pads. If the truck is being weighed only to obtain gross weight, then disengage the axle.

Liquid Loads

Here’s the golden rule of liquid loads on portables – all axles must be level at the same time. If there are insufficient portable scales to weigh all the axles of the vehicle at the same time, dummy pads must be used to compensate. Again, there are no rules or regulations which mandate liquid loads be weighed level, but like all things the ITEA stands for, it’s best to err on the side of caution.

Protecting the industry is the prime directive of the ITEA.


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