Bottom Line
Road Law
The money grab

By Jeff McConnell & James Mennella
Attorneys at law

 

As the economy crawls slowly up the road to better times, state and municipal governments are quick to learn a lesson. While they can charge a few hundred dollars for most basic traffic tickets, an overweight ticket can provide some very serious, quick revenue infusion into a community’s coffers.

On the legal side, the concept of issuing an overweight ticket seems somewhat logical. An overweight vehicle can, in some cases, be more dangerous and take a greater toll on a community’s roadways. Therefore, to compensate a community for putting up with increased danger to its residents and increased wear and tear on its roadways, it makes sense, in legitimate cases, to issue an overweight ticket with a reasonable fine.

Fair enough. But issuing an overweight ticket in situations where it isn’t reasonable to do so – i.e., refusing to allow a driver to correct a simple and nominal axle overweight problem or charging a totally unreasonable amount of fine – is absurd. As bad as these types of citations and fine amounts are, we’ve seen them increase steadily over the past 12 months.

Here are a few of the recent cases we’ve dealt with regarding overweight citations. We hope the answers help you avoid a similar fate.

Q: I recently received an overweight ticket while going over the Chesapeake Bridge. They wrote the ticket to me and the company I was driving for, and the officer set a fine amount of $26,234. Can the officer really set a fine amount like this?

A: Yes, but the officer isn’t assessing the fine. All the officer is doing is matching up the overweight portion and the corresponding dollar figure as set by the charging statute of the state in question. The state legislature or local municipality is the branch of government responsible for the astronomical penalty. So, as is often said, “call your congressman.”

Also, in your case, the officer wrote the citation to you and your company. That means that you both are jointly and severally liable for the fine amount. So if the company refuses to pay the fine, you are in line to pay it. But the court is likely to agree to a substantial fine reduction and a reasonable payment plan for the remainder if the matter is contested.

Q: I recently received an overweight ticket for “Off Truck Route.” The officer said that the road I was on was only designated for 60,000 pounds and my truck was 80,000 pounds. I explained to the officer that this was the only route in and out of my delivery location, but he gave me the ticket anyway. Now what?

A: We frequently see this type of ticket, which involves drivers making local deliveries. Many times drivers will have multiple deliveries as they go across a particular state or states.

When you have a bill of lading that specifies a particular drop location and that is the only way in or out, you have a strong argument for being off the truck route.

We’ve had a lot of success in arguing in particular cases where the location is so limited and remote that there’s really only one ingress/egress access into the area.

In these circumstances, as long as your bill of lading is specific and you’re following your designated route, we’ve got an opportunity to have your case dismissed.

However, the overweight is sometimes harder to defend without the presence of an overweight permit or some other ammunition as to why the vehicle is being operated on a roadway that is not rated for your particular scenario. LL


Send any questions or comments regarding transportation law to: Jeff McConnell and James Mennella, Road Law, 3441 W. Memorial, Suite 4, Oklahoma City, OK 73134, call 405-242-2030,
fax 405-242-2040, or e-mail roadlaw@att.net.

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