Why Raise the Vehicle Weight Limit?

America’s transportation network is facing significant challenges.

For more than 25 years, the federal weight limit has been set at 80,000 pounds--a regulation that now challenges our safety, economy, environment and infrastructure. Companies that ship heavy goods often hit the federal weight limit with significant space in their trailers, and are forced to use more trucks than necessary.

The federal weight limit has created an inefficiency problem that is hindering economic recovery. Diesel fuel prices are on the rise, and available truck capacity has dropped by approximately 16 percent since 2008. At the same time, freight hauled by trucks in the U.S. is expected to double by 2035. As we recover from the recession, even more trucks will need to take to the road to meet growing demand.   

Congress should enact the Safe & Efficient Transportation Act (SETA), H.R. 612,  to modernize truck transportation and make it safer and more sustainable. 

SETA gives states the option to safely raise interstate weight limits, without making trucks any larger. 

  • States would be free to set interstate weight limits of up to 97,000 pounds—but only for vehicles equipped with an additional (sixth) axle.

  • The required sixth axle would maintain braking capacity and the current distribution of weight per tire without changing the size of the truck.

  • While the additional axle maintains vehicle safety performance and minimizes pavement wear, the additional user fee for six-axle units would fund bridge repair.

Raising vehicle weight limits for six-axle tractor-trailers would effectively:


Tractor-trailers are traveling more miles than ever to keep up with rising demand.

  • Truck traffic has grown with the needs of the U.S. economy and population—increasing 11 times faster than road capacity.

  • The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that by 2020, the amount of freight shipped throughout the U.S. will increase 87 percent from what it was in 1998.

SETA will allow companies to consolidate freight on fewer trucks to make roads safer.

  • Trucks are safer than ever before. In 2009, the most recent safety statistics on record, the number of injuries in U.S. truck-related accidents declined by 18 percent, and the rate of truck-involved fatalities fell 14 percent-making that year the safest since the federal government began keeping track in 1975.
  • However, the biggest single factor in the number of vehicle/tractor-trailer accidents is vehicle miles traveled. Tractor-trailers now travel twice as many miles as they did in 1982.
  • SETA presents an opportunity for shippers to lower the VMTs needed to deliver their freight, reducing their accident rate even further.
  • Under full implementation of SETA, CTP member MillerCoors would need 2,000 fewer trucks each week—eliminating more than one million weekly vehicle miles.

Academic studies have shown, and empirical evidence proves, that raising the federal weight limit to 97,000 pounds for six-axle trucks would improve highway safety while maintaining current road standards.

  • Since the United Kingdom raised its gross vehicle weight limit to 97,000 pounds for six-axle vehicles in 2001, fatal truck-related accident rates have declined by 35 percent. More freight has been shipped, while the vehicle miles traveled to deliver a ton of freight has declined.

  • Based on the findings of a 2009 Wisconsin DOT study, if a law like SETA had been in place in 2006, it would have prevented 90 truck-related accidents in the state during that year.

  • The Transportation Research Board determined that heavier vehicles with additional axles do not lose stopping capability as long as axle weight limits are not exceeded.


SETA will save fuel and reduce greenhouse emissions.

  • Six-axle trucks carrying 97,000 pounds get 17 percent more ton-miles per gallon than five-axle trucks carrying 80,000 pounds, according to a 2008 study by the American Transportation Research Institute.

  • The U.S. DOT estimates that raising the federal weight limit would save 2 billion gallons of diesel fuel annually and result in a 19 percent decrease in fuel consumption and emissions per ton mile.

  • Under full implementation of SETA, CTP member Kraft Foods would save 6.6 million gallons of fuel and eliminate 73,000 tons of carbon emissions each year.

  • The San Joaquin Valley Unified Air Pollution Control District, responsible for air quality management in California’s largest agricultural production region, supports increasing the federal vehicle weight limit for its positive environmental and economic impact.


Raising weight limits will help U.S. businesses improve their competitive edge, and will help position our economy for a steady recovery.

  • Rail is often the first choice for shipping where it is available, but trucking is also crucial. Shippers need affordable intermodal options to achieve economic recovery and absorb rising commodities prices. SETA would boost trucking efficiency to safely boost the economy.
  • The U.S. gross vehicle weight limits trail all of our major trading partners, including Canada , Mexico and most European nations.  Raising the limit would help the U.S. compete in the global economy.

  • SETA would allow American producers to consolidate goods and reduce the number of weekly shipments. It will also spur investment in upgraded equipment, create jobs and transition the U.S. to a more efficient transportation network.

  • Under full implementation of SETA, CTP member International Paper would annually save about $70 million in shipping costs.


The user fee for 97,000-pound, six-axle trucks will fund accelerated bridge repair and maintenance, while these trucks will collectively inflict less wear on our nation’s roads.

  • The addition of a sixth axle ensures that no additional weight per tire results from the higher weight limits.

  • The higher weight limit would cut the number of trucks needed for shipments—saving $2.4 billion in pavement restoration costs over 20 years, according to a U.S. DOT study.

  • Fewer trucks would satisfy America ’s shipping needs, putting less overall weight on any given stretch of pavement while directing higher user fees toward bridge repair and maintenance.