Eastern Europe Shipping Blog

Expert tips on smarter shipping between the U.S. and Eastern Europe, including shipping of heavy goods.

What are DOT Truck Weight Limits by State?

I.C.E. Transport | May 23, 2024 7:40:00 AM | Regulations, heavyweight freight


There is a very costly misconception regarding ocean shipping that may lead global shippers of heavy freight to pay far more than needed. Specifically, steamship lines promote the idea that container weights must be limited to 44,000 lbs or less to stay within “legal” limits.  Knowing the actual DOT truck weight limits by state can easily lead to six-figure savings for large-volume shippers of heavy freight.

Trucking Heavy Haul

The actual limit on ocean container weight is the max gross cargo weight listed on the container door – usually 10,000 or more beyond 44,000 lbs. The reason some steamship lines and forwarders advise against shipping “overweight” containers is that once containers hit the port and are being transported inland, any extra weight could bring the total truck weight beyond the DOT’s 80,000-lb weight restriction for over-the-road (OTR) moves.


Read our Ultimate Guide to Shipping   Heavyweight and Oversized Freight


But if you study the actual truck weight limits by state, you’ll find that many states allow carriers with designated permits to handle containers that are 10,000–15,000 lbs heavier than the 44,000-lb “limit.”

For instance, heavyweight shipping permits may be issued that allow specialized rigs to carry 10,000 lbs more than a standard truck, for things like construction vehicles or heavy machinery. That brings the allowable maximum gross weight to about 90,000 lbs. The max shipping weight allowance for a 40’ container payload is approximately 59,000 lbs, or 47,900 lbs for a 20’ container.

The only exception to the 80,000-lb limit is when trucks don’t have the weight evenly distributed across a longer trailer with a number of axles. The Federal Bridge Gross Weight Limit formula uses a weight-to-length ratio to determine whether a vehicle can operate safely across bridges, and thus is allowed to carry the 80,000-lb limit. The DOT weight limit per axle formula currently allows up to seven axles with 86 feet or more between axle sets, and a maximum gross weight of 105,500 lbs.

Tanker trucks are allowed to use a standard five-axle set to carry 80,000 lbs without violating the bridge formula. This carve-out was requested by the American Trucking Association. A Federal Bridge Gross Weight Limit calculator can be found here.

When performing heavy freight shipping, you should aim to maximize ocean container payload in order to reduce freight costs per ton. But in order to do that, you’ll need to build relationships with trucking companies that have the blanket or single-trip permits to move containers direct from the port to the consignee with no need for transloading.

You may also want to consider working with a freight forwarder that specializes in global, door-to-door moves of heavy freight and can manage every aspect of the move, from pick-up to final delivery. Such providers have built a network of heavy haul trucking companies at every U.S. port to help you minimize ocean freight costs while remaining “street legal” on OTR moves.

Below is a chart showing DOT truck weight limits by state in terms of the maximum weight that can be added to the unladen truck weight. You can also see a full listing here, and more detail from U.S. DOT here.

Not every state is listed below, just those that allow legal hauling of overweight loads with a special permit. All other states apply the federal DOT legal weight limit of 80,000 pounds, including the weight of the truck, plus its payload.   




Why There Are Truck Weight Limits by State

Truck weight limits vary by state to ensure road safety, manage wear and tear on public highways and secondary roads, and protect the environment. DOT weight limits by state are crucial because heavier vehicles can cause significant damage to roads and bridges, leading to higher maintenance and repair costs. Each state sets its own weight limits based on the design and capacity of its roads and bridges, as well as local traffic conditions and environmental considerations.

Safety is a primary concern. Heavier trucks of course have longer stopping distances and create greater momentum, which can increase the severity of crashes. By regulating truck weights, states aim to reduce the risk of more catastrophic accidents compared to cars, vans, pickups, etc.

The collection of state and local taxes is another rationale for truck weight limits. States receive taxes from carriers that are calculated based on weight, and used to compensate for investments in road and bridge maintenance. Also, goods are often valued based on weight, so truck weight factors into fair trade and profitability.

Finally, environmental protection plays a role. Heavier loads mean higher fuel consumption and greater Co2 emissions. By imposing weight limits, states can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants, contributing to cleaner air and a healthier environment.

These regulations also help create a more equitable use of public roads. By limiting truck weights, states ensure that no single vehicle type causes excessive deterioration of highway infrastructure, causing a greater tax burden on citizens and budgetary issues. State-specific weight limits are essential for balancing safety, environmental impact, and economic considerations.

In addition to state weight limits, local municipalities sometimes push for stricter weight limits to address congestion and road damage issues. Places like Luzerne County, PA., Grand Rapids, MI., and Saratoga Springs, NY, have all seen local efforts to restrict truck weight due to concerns over traffic and environmental impact.


Weight Restrictions and Regulations on Container Trucking

Based on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) treaty from the International Maritime Organization, trucks that transport shipping containers must be weighed in one of two approved ways: by weighing the full container using calibrated, certified equipment, or by adding up the combined tare weight of the container and all cargo. Estimated weights are not allowed.


Containers that are improperly weighed or loaded can be subject to civil liability as well as federal and state penalties. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets national standards for securing cargo, which are enforced by the DOT and state authorities. Fines for hauling overweight loads can increase based on how much they exceed the legal limit. Some states calculate fines on a per-pound basis over the weight limit.


Knowing DOT Truck Weight Limits by State Can Drive Dramatic Savings for Heavy Cargo Shippers

If you ship large volumes of heavy freight via ocean, it pays to develop your network of specialized drayage partners with the permits required to move heavy containers from the port to the consignee, with no need for transloading. Or, better yet, partner with a heavy freight specialist like I.C.E. Transport that can seamlessly handle your door-to-door container shipments. Contact I.C.E. today to start a conversation.

New call-to-action