A Guide To California Truck Stop And Weigh Station Laws

In California, all commercial vehicles are subject to inspection and testing by the California Highway Patrol (CHP). Most inspections are performed at Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facilities - commonly referred to as truck scales, truck stops or weigh stations - but may also occur in other locations as determined by CHP. Commercial drivers are required to stop and submit to inspections any time vehicle inspection signs are displayed.

How Are Commercial Vehicles Defined?

According to the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), a commercial vehicle is one that is "used or maintained for the transportation of persons for hire, compensation, or profit or designed, used, or maintained primarily for the transportation of property."

While any type of vehicle can fit into this category, most people think of large trucks and buses. However, even a car or pickup can qualify as a commercial vehicle, depending on its primary use.

Since the definition of a commercial vehicle includes vehicles that are "designed" for transporting property, some vehicles are considered commercial vehicles regardless of their primary use. For example, tow trucks and tractor-trailers are always considered commercial vehicles. The weight of a vehicle is also a significant factor in determining whether it was designed for transporting property. So, be sure to know the weight of your vehicle when trying to determine whether it is commercial by design.

Rental Vehicles And California Weigh Stations

In some states, rental vehicles are not required to stop at weigh stations for inspection. However, that is not the case in California. If the rented vehicle is a "commercial vehicle," then you must stop for an inspection.

Not all rental vehicles are required to stop, so it is important to know what is considered a commercial vehicle under California law.

In general, the rental vehicles that will fall under this category are larger trucks that are used for moving, such as U-Hauls.

This can get complicated when it comes to larger pickup trucks. For pickups, it will depend on their gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWRs). A pickup truck that has one or more of the following is required to stop at a weigh station:

  • A GVWR of 11,500 pounds or more
  • An unladen weight of 8,001 pounds or more
  • An open box-type bed exceeding nine feet
  • A utility body or flatbed instead of a pickup bed

Knowing and understanding the commercial status of a vehicle is important since failing to stop at an inspection site is a misdemeanor.

California Weigh Station Locations

To ensure compliance with safety laws, tests and inspections are conducted at dozens of primary Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Facilities on major highways throughout the state. There are numerous mini-site weigh station locations as well. Any trucker traveling in the state will be inspected at one point or another.

Purpose Of Inspection Stations

In 2016, more than 4,000 people died in accidents with large trucks or buses in the U.S. On average, nearly 300 fatal truck accidents occur every year in California, and smaller vehicle drivers and passengers make up a majority of those who die. By enforcing safety measures on the deadliest vehicles on the roads, it logically follows that fatality rates will decrease.

CHP's mission is to provide safety, service and security to all people in California. The organization proactively ensures and enforces Motor Carrier Safety regulations for all commercial vehicles, carriers and trucking companies.

Registered owners of trucks and trucking companies are also subject to inspection through the Basic Inspection of Terminals (BIT) Program. The intent of the program is to ensure trucking companies are maintaining their vehicles. During an inspection, vehicles are checked to make sure they meet a list of minimum standards. Inspectors also check the records of the vehicles to see if registration and repairs are up-to-date and have been completed.

What's Checked At Weigh Station Inspections

Typically, a weigh station will have a rolling scale where the truck will be weighed. If the vehicle is under the established limit, the truck can usually continue on its route.

While at the weigh station, each truck may be subject to additional inspections, which may include checks for:

  • Brake malfunctions
  • Cracked or insecurely mounted equipment
  • Emissions
  • Fluid leaks
  • Logbook
  • Tire and wheel maintenance

Be Prepared: Documentation Required At Weigh Stations

The California Department of Transportation website lists the documents that a commercial driver must show upon request:

  • Driver's license documents and any related certificates
  • Registration documents (cab cards, permits, etc.)
  • Proof of insurance
  • Special permits for oversize and overweight loads, if required
  • Hazardous materials shipping papers, if required
  • Fuel tax permits
  • Hours of service records (logbook)
  • Bills/invoices etc., showing content and origin of agricultural products, if required
  • Proof of sales tax payment, if applicable

U.S. commercial carriers may maintain evidence of financial responsibility at their principal places of business, while Canadian and Mexican carriers must carry this documentation in each vehicle used in the U.S.

Registration documents required for all commercial vehicles in California include:

  • CA number (CA#): Issued by CHP and used as a means of identification for each commercial vehicle within the state
  • Motor Carrier Permit (MCP): Issued by the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and used as proof that the motor carrier has registered its CA# with the DMV and complies with state laws for commercial vehicle use
  • USDOT Number: Issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and required before entering California or starting a motor carrier business in the state

Consequences For Not Having The Right Documentation

If you don't have the right documents with you, you will be stuck at the weigh station until the missing information can be verified. As long as the missing information can be found, it will only be a delay. If, on the other hand, the missing document cannot be found, there is the possibility that you will be put out of service until it can be verified.

To avoid this, you may want to keep all of your important documents in a three-ring binder so that all of the information is in one place when the inspector asks for it. You may want to include all of the title and registration documentation as well as the safety data that pertains to the cargo you're hauling.

What To Do About Fines And Tickets

Just like with driving a car, there are many levels of fines and tickets that can come with driving a truck. Some of the fines are small, but considering the potential safety concerns with large trucks, some of the fines can be quite large.

If you're faced with a fine or ticket, make sure to inform the company you work for so they can keep their records updated. They will also be able to tell you the company policy and what to do next. There are some tickets and fines that you will need to pay and others that the company will pay. Typically, violations like speeding or logbook violations are paid by the employee, while violations that have to do with the truck are covered by the company. You will want to check with your company to find out their policy on who pays what.

Unpaid fines and tickets can turn into trouble. The worst reaction you can have is to ignore it. While it may be possible to contest the fine or ticket, you will still have to take action. Depending on the seriousness of the citation, you may be stuck, unable to drive until it is resolved.

Laws Unique To California

California has strict environmental standards and regulations. These apply to trucks and truck drivers as well. While the regulations can seem cumbersome, they are an effort to keep California a beautiful place to live while still making it possible to transport goods in and out of the state.

Many trucking companies across the nation have taken it upon themselves to make the California guidelines their company standards since the state rules are stricter than the federal laws. That way they don't have to worry about complying if a route goes through California.

  • Truck idling law: In California, diesel-fueled trucks with a GVWR more than 10,000 pounds are not allowed to idle for more than five minutes. This includes sleeper berth trucks. There are alternatives to keeping the truck comfortable while resting without idling your engine. If you will be traveling through California, be prepared.
  • Break and rest periods: The summary of hours rule is a federal law that limits how many hours a trucker can drive over a period of seven to eight consecutive days. Break and rest periods, however, vary by state, so it's important to know which rules you'll run into as you travel between states. In California, commercial truck drivers are entitled to a 30-minute meal break every five hours and a 10-minute rest break every four hours.
  • Smog testing: California has extensive laws regarding smog and vehicle emissions. This is also one of the requirements that can be checked during an inspection at a weigh station. Inspections are required for most vehicles. Diesel vehicles 1997 model year and older with a GVWR of more than 14,000 pounds are among some of the exceptions for smog testing.
  • SmartWay technology: In California, all tractors that pull box-type trailers must be equipped with SmartWay technology and low rolling resistance tires.

Police Searches Of Cabs And Cargo

There are a lot of factors to consider when it comes to police searching a commercial vehicle. A trucker spends so much time on the road that the cab and sleeper berth can be a second home. The fact of the matter is, however, that these are all still part of a vehicle that is subject to different rules when it comes to officer searches.

  • The cab and sleeper berth: These areas are like other vehicle searches. All the officer needs is probable cause, and then he or she can search the vehicle. Anything that is in plain sight when you are pulled over is sufficient for probable cause. If, for example, there was a small bag that looked like it might contain marijuana in plain sight, the officer would then have probable cause to investigate and search the vehicle.
  • Sleeping hours: An officer is not supposed to wake you up while you are stopped and sleeping in your truck, just to check your ID or other documentation. Break times are federally mandated and necessary for driver safety.
  • Cargo: Similar to the cab, an officer would need probable cause to be able to search the cargo of a commercial vehicle. With a vehicle like a semi, where the cargo isn't in "plain sight," probable cause can be more difficult to establish. It is more likely that the officer would need a warrant to be able to search the cargo.

Truckers' Legal Rights

As a trucker, you play a vital role in the American economy. Without truckers, it would be difficult to get goods and materials across the country as quickly and efficiently. That is why your rights are important.

These are some of the laws in place to make sure you get what you need to be able to do your job safely:

  • Off-duty time: Driving a truck across the country can be a long job. There are a lot of miles to haul and only so many hours in the day, and often there is a lot of pressure to drive a little longer or a little farther to make sure that the load gets to the destination on time. This is when it's critical to understand your off-duty time. Off-duty time is critical both for your mental health and for safety on the road.
  • Harassment: Just like in any other workplace, truckers have a right not to be harassed. But unlike other workplaces, there are unique circumstances that truckers have to deal with. One issue is harassment from dispatchers that interrupt off-duty time. Dispatchers are not supposed to interrupt a truck driver while the trucker is taking a break or sleeping.
  • Surface Transportation Assistance Act (STAA): Under the STAA, there are certain activities that are protected, and a truck company cannot retaliate against a trucker for engaging in those activities. The STAA covers many actions, including making complaints about safety regulations regarding a safety violation and refusing to drive with malfunctioning equipment. If the situation or the truck seems unsafe and your company is refusing to make it right, your company cannot retaliate against you for reporting what is happening.

Got Trucker Troubles?

Whether you're uncertain about your rights or you don't know what to do about a fine from a weigh station, Girardi | Keese has the experience and knowledge to help you find the right solution. Contact us online or call us at 800-401-4530 today so we can help get you back on the road.