Tractor Trailer Weight Limit Laws

18-wheelers parked alongside each other

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s most recent statistics, in 2019, single trucks (tractors pulling a single trailer), the typical 53-foot “big-rig” seen on the roads every day, accounted for 55 percent of all trucks involved in fatal collisions. 3,767 of these fatal accidents involved a truck weighing over 26,000 pounds, while 45,470 accidents involving the same type of truck resulted in serious injury. The weight of the cargo plays a critical role in how a tractor-trailer can safely operate and, in many cases, is the determining factor in the severity of an accident.

Maximum Legal Weight

Federal law limits the maximum weight for standard industry trucks to 80,000 pounds of gross vehicle weight. This is the weight of the cargo, trailer and truck itself. An empty tractor-trailer typically weighs 35,000 pounds, meaning it can hold, at most, 45,000 pounds of cargo. The weight is divided amongst the axles and cannot exceed the limits depicted in the image below:

Tractor Trailer Weight Limit Laws

If a set of axles was under more weight than legally allowed (for example, a tandem axle with a capacity of 34,000 pounds carrying 35,000 pounds), the driver would either have to go back and unload the excess weight or shift the axles, redistributing the weight. This is what trucking weigh-stations are designed for!


There are specific scenarios where trucks can exceed the 80,000 pounds gross vehicle weight limit. In 2020, The governor of Mississippi signed an executive order allowing for the weight limit of trucks transporting emergency supplies to reach 90,000 pounds with a tandem axle capacity of 40,000 pounds. In much larger circumstances (think Oversized Load carriers or moving a space shuttle!), a special permit is needed to transport heavier cargo.

  • Trucks with 150,000 pounds gross vehicle weight require a permit and can operate 24/7.
  • Trucks with 180,000 pounds gross vehicle weight require a permit but can only operate during daylight.

Overweight Trucks Cause Accidents

The driver of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) can easily lose control of their truck if it has been improperly loaded or overweight. There are many different ways an overweight tractor-trailer can potentially cause an accident. An unbalanced and overweight truck may travel downhill faster than normal, causing the driver to need more time to apply their brakes. More weight also means more pressure on the tires, increasing the chances of a blowout. When weight is not properly distributed, the cargo can shift in the trailer causing it to tip.

Trucking Accident Attorney

An overweight truck is a sign of negligence. There are many safeguards in place to prevent trucks from operating if they exceed certain weight limits, but accidents still happen. If you or someone you know has been involved in a trucking accident involving an improperly weighted truck which resulted in injury contact Gulf South Law Firm today.

Call our office today at (228) 231-3989 for a free and easy consultation.

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