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South Dakota and Kentucky weigh in
States say companies must take fair share of responsibility for overweight trucks

By Jami Jones
feature editor

Trucking companies, not just drivers anymore, can face civil and criminal citations in South Dakota if law-enforcement officials find a truck operating overweight.

The South Dakota Supreme Court issued its opinion Aug. 25, stating that owners, not just the drivers, of overweight vehicles are liable for the trucks’ operation.

The decision came on an appeal by Myrl & Roy’s Paving of Sioux Falls, SD, which was charged and later convicted of numerous overweight truck violations after a company driver was caught Aug. 17, 2001, hauling an overweight load of asphalt mix.

The essence of the court’s opinion centers on South Dakota statutes that make operating an overweight vehicle the offense and levies penalties for violating the laws. 

The opinion essentially states that more than the driver can be involved in the operation of a truck.

“We believe the manner in which the statutes establish liability suggests the Legislature intended for (the statutes) to apply to the owners of overweight vehicles as well as drivers,” Judge David Gilbertson wrote in the state court’s opinion.

Gilbertson explained that the South Dakota statutes in question simply prohibit vehicles from “operating” with excessive weight. He wrote that the statute imposes liability on any person convicted of the “operating” offense. 

After reviewing the statute, Gilbertson said the court found that owners act through their employees.

“The facts in this case show it was logical for the state to focus upon Myrl & Roy’s,” Gilbertson wrote.

Gilbertson referred to the company’s role in the events that led up to it being cited for the overweight truck.

Jericho Dede, the driver of the truck, was in line at an asphalt mixing plant. Another driver, whose truck had just been loaded, decided that his truck was overweight. 

A Myrl & Roy’s manager ordered the excess mixture be offloaded into Dede’s truck.

Dede’s truck then went through the loading process for a full load of asphalt mix, on top of the extra that had already been loaded. Dede declined to be weighed and left the facility. He was later stopped by law-enforcement officials, who cited Myrl & Roy’s for operating the truck over weight limits.

“We determined that the statute applied to both owners as well as drivers of an offending vehicle,” Gilbertson wrote in the opinion. “Central to our decision was the fact that it was ‘the employer’s negligence that caused’ the violation.”

Gilbertson pointed at the manager’s direction to load a portion of asphalt mix into Dede’s truck before it passed under the silos to receive its own load. Gilbertson also noted Myrl & Roy’s lack of a policy requiring its drivers to weigh their vehicles before traveling on public roads.

Kentucky truckers ‘beg’ for crackdown on overweight trucks
“Our goal is to have trucks running legal weight limits, and we plan to continue to enforce the law,” said Chris Gilligan, Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet information officer. 

Gregg Howard, a commissioner with the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, said the main problem was with coal trucks coming out of the mines in eastern Kentucky. Those trucks were so overloaded that rather than tipping the scales around the 126,000-pound mark (the legal limit for coal-haul routes), many were weighing in around 150,000 to 180,000 pounds.

“We even had one that weighed 229,000 pounds,” Howard said, “and a lot over 200,000 pounds.”

The first vehicle enforcement blitz started June 28. At that time, it was only intended to last a couple weeks. But it was so successful and met with such great support — some completely unexpected — that it is continuing.

Kentucky officials aren’t planning to back down, and quite honestly, many are a little shocked that truckers aren’t asking them to.

In a recent town hall meeting of sorts, Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher met with residents of an eastern Kentucky community. In attendance were a number of truck drivers. When the discussion of the overweight enforcement came up, the responses from the truckers caught them somewhat off-guard.

“The truck drivers, in essence, were begging law-enforcement officials to enforce the law on them,” Gilligan said. “They don’t want to run the risk of killing someone with overweight trucks.”

When the enforcement blitz started, law-enforcement officials wrote hundreds of tickets right off the bat. But that number has been tapering off.

As the enforcement campaign evolved and built steam, law-enforcement officials not only saw the problem as a public safety issue, they started ticketing it as one.

“The state is now going after the coal operator who willfully overloads trucks,” Gilligan said. “The owner can be cited with a violation with a maximum fine of $500. The truck driver isn’t the only one being punished or targeted for this violation.”

Howard added that it appeared the program has really gotten everyone’s attention.

“We weighed 50 trucks by 10 this morning (less than a month into the first campaign), and not a one of them was overweight,” Howard said. 

Since the initial crackdown, Kentucky has even teamed up with surrounding states and implemented more crackdowns, the most recent of which started Sept. 30 and involved officials from Indiana and Illinois.

jami_jones@landlinemag.com

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