Topic:
ASSAULT; CRIMINAL PROCEDURE; FINES; AUTOMOBILE SAFETY STANDARDS; TRUCKS;
Location:
TRUCKS;

OLR Research Report


March 20, 2007

 

2007-R-0214

CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR OVERWEIGHT TRUCKS

By: Zachary Schurin, Legislative Fellow

You asked how Connecticut's criminal penalties for the operation of overweight trucks compare to the penalties imposed by Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island.

SUMMARY

Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island all enforce maximum truck weight laws through fines. There are no laws in any of these states that explicitly provide prison terms for maximum weight violations. However, Connecticut and these other states have criminal statutes such as manslaughter and assault that can be used against the owner or operator of an overweight truck.

CONNECTICUT'S OVERWEIGHT TRUCK PENALTIES

Overweight trucks in Connecticut are subject to an incremental fine schedule pursuant to CGS 14-267a. Citations may be issued by specified state police, local police, and Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) inspectors (CGS 14-267a(g)). Overweight fines are enforceable through the criminal courts by prosecutors.

Weight Limits

State law establishes maximum (1) gross weight and (2) axle weight limits for various configurations of trucks or vehicle-trailer combinations according to the number of axles, axle spacing, and, in some cases, wheelbase (the distance between the first and last axles). These limits are specified in CGS 14-267a. A vehicle cannot exceed its maximum gross or axle weight limits unless it has a special overweight Department of Transportation (DOT) permit. These permits are given only under certain conditions and usually contain special restrictions on the vehicle.

A truck may have a lower legal gross vehicle weight than what is imposed by CGS 14-267a. The law requires the owner of a commercial vehicle to register a vehicle's weight when registering the vehicle with DMV. The registered vehicle weight cannot exceed the limits proscribed by CGS 14-267a(b) or the manufacturer's approved weight limit for the vehicle (CGS 14-267a(e)). The cost of vehicle registration corresponds with the weight of the vehicle. Thus, some owners may be inclined to select a registered weight for their truck that is less than the maximum legal limit. For purposes of determining if there is a gross weight violation, an inspector compares the truck's actual weight with the truck's registered weight.

Maximum Allowable Gross Vehicle Weights

Connecticut law specifies a maximum allowable gross weight for any commercial vehicle according to the number of axles and vehicle configuration (straight truck or vehicle combination). But in most cases, it provides an alternative for calculating the maximum allowable gross weight by means of the federal bridge formula. The practical difference is that a slightly higher gross weight is possible under the formula in many instances, as long as the vehicle meets its axle and wheelbase requirements.

Depending on a vehicle's configuration and total number of axles, the maximum allowable gross weights possible under Connecticut law are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Maximum Allowable Commercial Vehicle Gross Weights in Connecticut

Two-axle Vehicle

32,000 pounds (no axle weight restrictions)

36,000 pounds with axle weights limited to 18,000 pounds maximum

Option to use the Federal Bridge Formula for up to 40,000 pounds

40,000 pounds if a four-wheel construction vehicle operating within 25 miles of the construction site

Three-axle Vehicle (Straight Truck-Not a Tractor-Trailer Combination

Table 1: -Continued-

Table 1. Maximum Allowable Commercial Vehicle Gross Weights in Connecticut

53,800 pounds

Option to use the Federal Bridge Formula for up to 60,000 pounds

Three-axle Combination of Vehicle and Trailer or Semitrailer

58,400 pounds

Option to use the Federal Bridge Formula for up to 60,000 pounds

Four-axle Vehicle Engaged in Construction Work or Transporting Material or Equipment to a Construction Site

73,000 pounds

Four-or-more-axle Straight Vehicle or Vehicle-Trailer Combination

67,400 pounds if the wheelbase is less than 28 feet

73,000 pounds if the wheelbase is 28 feet or more

Five-or-more-axle Straight Vehicle or Vehicle-Trailer Combination

73,000 pounds

Option to use the Federal Bridge Formula for up to 80,000 pounds

Gross weights between 73,001 and 80,000 pounds (the maximum legal weight without a special DOT permit) are allowed only through application of the bridge formula.

Maximum Allowable Axle Weights

Connecticut's maximum axle weights are the same for all sizes of commercial vehicles. A vehicle cannot have more than 22,400 pounds on a single axle or more than 18,000 pounds on axles spaced less than six feet apart. Thus, the typical "tandem" axle on a truck is under a practical limitation of 36,000 pounds.

Fines for Overweight

Fines for weight violations are calculated by reference to a vehicle's percentage over the legal weight. A fine can be applied to gross vehicle weight violations and axle weight violations. Thus, the potential fine is determined by how much the truck's weight exceeds the legal weight. As the percentage overweight increases, the fines increase. (See Table II)

Table II: Connecticut Fine Schedule for Overweight Vehicles

Percent Overweight

Dollar Fine per Hundred Pounds

Minimum

Fine

<5%

$3

--

5-10%

5

$50

10-15%

6

100

15-20%

7

200

20-25%

10

300

25-30%

12

500

>30%

15

1,000

Based on the fine schedule, two different overweight trucks, with the same amount of overweight, could pay different fine amounts. A truck with a registered gross vehicle weight of 20,000 lbs. that weighs in at 25,000 lbs. would have to pay a fine of $500. By contrast, a truck with a registered gross vehicle weight of 60,000 lbs. that weighs 65,000 lbs. would be fined only $250.

Criminal Penalties

In Connecticut, there are a number of criminal charges that prosecutors may bring against government vehicle drivers, under certain circumstances. These include manslaughter, assault, and reckless endangerment. Typically these charges are brought only when the failure to comply with maximum weight restrictions causes an accident that results in death or serious injury.

Manslaughter. Manslaughter in the first or second degree may be brought against the owner or operator of an overweight truck if the weight of the truck is the proximate cause of a motor vehicle accident that results in death. The law allows for a charge of first-degree manslaughter when anyone “under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life, (a person) recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person” (C.G.S. 53a-55).

David Wilcox, the owner of American Crushing and Recycling, was charged with first-degree manslaughter after the infamous Avon Mountain crash. Four people were killed on July 29, 2005 after one of his truck's brakes failed while descending Avon Mountain. Wilcox was charged with first-degree manslaughter because, according to the prosecution's arrest affidavit, his failure to correct brake defects of which he was aware created a grave risk of death for the traveling public. This is comparable to a situation in which an owner or operator knows that a truck is significantly overweight, but still chooses to drive the vehicle. First-degree manslaughter is a Class B felony punishable by a term of imprisonment up to 20 years, a fine up to $15,000, or both (CGS 53a-55).

The owner or operator of an overweight truck could also be charged with manslaughter in the second degree (CGS 53a-56)). Under the statute, a person is guilty of manslaughter in the second degree when he recklessly causes the death of another person. The Penal Code defines the term “recklessly” as the “conscious disregard (of) a substantial and unjustifiable risk. . . of such nature and degree that disregarding it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation” (CGS 53a-3(13)). Second-degree is a Class C felony punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 10 years, a fine up to $10,000, or both.

In the case of a fatality stemming from the operation of an overweight truck, the decision to prosecute and ultimate disposition of a case will depend on whether the reasonable person in the owner or operator's situation was aware or should have been aware of the degree of danger the vehicle's weight posed.

Assault. If the victim of an accident caused by the excessive weight of a truck is severely injured, prosecutors may choose to charge the owner or operator of the vehicle with assault. The language of the first-degree and second-degree assault statutes mirrors the language for first-degree and second-degree manslaughter. Under CGS 53a-59, a person is guilty of first-degree assault if he causes serious physical injury to the victim “under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life.” Under CGS 53a-60 a person is guilty of assault in the second degree if he recklessly causes serious physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument other than a firearm. In this instance, an overweight truck could constitute a dangerous instrument. First-degree assault is a Class B felony punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 20 years, a fine up to $15,000, or both. Second-degree assault is a Class D felony punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $5,000, or both.

Reckless Endangerment. Finally, Connecticut's Penal Code would also permit charging the owner or operator of an overweight truck with reckless endangerment. First-degree reckless endangerment is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison, a fine of up to $2,000, or both. Second-degree reckless endangerment is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

A person commits first-degree reckless endangerment if he, “with extreme indifference to human life recklessly engages in conduct which creates a risk of serious physical injury to another person (CGS 53a-63). By contrast he commits second-degree reckless endangerment when he “recklessly engages in conduct which creates a risk of physical injury to another person” (CGS 53a-64). Because motor vehicle accidents by their very nature are likely to result in serious physical injury, prosecutors would perhaps be more inclined to charge overweight truck owners or operators with reckless endangerment in the first degree.

FINE SCHEDULES IN MASSACHUSETTS, NEW YORK AND RHODE ISLAND

New York

New York, like Connecticut, uses a graduated fine schedule for overweight truck penalties (See Table III). Fines are determined both by reference to maximum gross vehicle weight ratings and per axle limits. Fines escalate on a sliding scale. Gross vehicle weights above 30,000 lbs over the maximum are fined $2,700, with a 6 per pound charge for ever pound exceeding 30,000. Axle weights more than 30% above the legal limit are subject to a maximum fine of $2,450 (N.Y. Veh. & Traf. Law 385).

Table III: New York Fine Schedule for Overweight Vehicles

Amount of Over Gross Vehicle Weight

Dollar Fine

Percentage over Maximum Axle Weight

Dollar Fine

1-2,000 lbs.

$50

0-5%

$100

2,001-3,000

75

5-10

200

3,001-4,000

100

10-15

350

4,001-5,000

200

15-20

600

5,001-6,000

300

20-25

1,000

6,001-7,000

400

25-30

1,600

7,001-8,000

500

>30

2,450

8,001-9,000

600

   

9,001-10,000

700

   

10,001-15,000

1,200

   

15,001-20,000

1,700

   

20,001-25,000

2,200

   

25,001-30,000

2,700

   

>30,000

$2,700 + .06/ pound

   

Massachusetts and Rhode Island

The overweight fine schedules in Massachusetts and Rhode Island are less stratified then the Connecticut schedule. In Massachusetts, the fine for operating overweight trucks that exceed either the manufacturer's recommended gross vehicle weight, or the maximum axle weight by less than 10,000 lbs. is $40 per thousand pounds. If a truck is more than 10,000 lbs. overweight, the fine increases to $80 per thousand pounds with no maximum fine (Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 90, 19A).

Rhode Island levies fines of $65 for every thousand pounds over the legal weight up to 10,000 lbs. overweight, and fines of $125 for every thousand pounds above 10 thousand pounds overweight (R.I. Gen. Laws ch. 31 31-25-16). Unlike Massachusetts, however, Rhode Island imposes a surcharge fine of $1,025 for trucks weighing more than 104,800 lbs., in addition to all other fines.

Table III: Fine Schedules for Massachusetts and Rhode Island

Massachusetts

Rhode Island

Amount Overweight

Dollar Fine Per Thousand Pounds

Amount Overweight

Dollar Fine Per Thousand Pounds

Less than 10,000 lbs.

$40

Less than 10,000 lbs.

$65

Greater than 10,000 lbs.

$80

Greater than 10,000 lbs.

$125

CRIMINAL PENALTIES FOR OVERWEIGHT VEHICLES IN MASSACHUSETTS, NEW YORK AND RHODE ISLAND

As is the case with Connecticut criminal law, the absence of specific statutes in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island regarding the operation of overweight trucks does not preclude vehicle operators or owners from criminal prosecution. All three states have laws that punish criminal negligence in its various forms. The ancient legal doctrines of manslaughter and assault are codified in the penal codes of Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island, and provide the structural basis for charges against owners and operators whose overweight trucks cause accidents that result in death or serious injury.

The penalties for manslaughter and assault in Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island vary considerably. Rhode Island specifically addresses deaths and injuries arising out of the reckless operation of motor vehicles (R.I. Gen. Laws ch. 31 31-27-1 et. seq.), while Massachusetts and New York's laws have a more general application. Table IV illustrates:

Table IV: Maximum Terms of Imprisonment for Relevant Criminal Penalties in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island

State

Manslaughter

Assault

Reckless Endangerment

Massachusetts

20 years

(Mass. Gen. Law ch. 265 13).

30 months

(Mass. Gen. Law ch. 265 13a).

No statutory provision

New York

Seven years

(The applicable statute is second-degree vehicular manslaughter. (N.Y. Penal Law 125.12)).

Seven years

(N.Y. Penal Law 120.03-04).

One year

N.Y. Penal Law 120.20-25).

Rhode Island

10 years

(R.I. Gen. Laws ch. 31 31-27-1).

Five years

(R.I. Gen. Laws ch. 31 31-27-1.1).

No Statutory Provision

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