Vehicle Code § 35551a VC is the California statute that provides the weight limits for commercial vehicles. Operating a vehicle in excess of these limits is a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to six months in county jail, $1,000, and additional fines:.
|Pounds of excess weight||Fine|
|Up to 1,000||$20|
|1,001 to 1,500||$30|
|1,501 to 2,000||$40|
|2,001 to 2,500||$55|
|2,501 to 3,000||$85|
|3,001 to 3,500||$105|
|3,501 to 4,000||$125|
|4,001 to 4,500||$145|
|4,501 to 5,000||$175|
|5,001 to 6,000||$00.04 per lb.|
|6,001 to 7,000||$00.06 per lb.|
|7,001 to 8,000||$00.08 per lb.|
|8,001 to 10,000||$00.15 per lb.|
|10,001 and over||$00.20 per lb.|
VC 35551a provides a table that lists the appropriate weights for commercial vehicles. Depending on the number of axles on the vehicle, and the distance between them, a commercial vehicle must have a maximum gross weight between
- 34,000 pounds to
- 80,000 pounds.
Examples of illegal acts
- a truck driver driving their truck with an overweight cargo to try and meet a delivery date.
- the operator of a commercial vehicle suspects the vehicle exceeds weight limits, but drives the motor vehicle anyways.
- a motor carrier consistently drives their vehicle with overweight loads that exceed permissible weight limits.
You can use a legal defense to challenge an allegation of violating this statute. Common defenses include showing that you:
- were in the process of preparing for loading or unloading,
- were driving an exempt vehicle, and/or
- had a vehicle permit that allowed for an oversize load.
In most cases, a violation of this law is charged as a misdemeanor. This is opposed to an infraction or a California felony.
The crime is punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and/or
- a maximum fine of $1,000.
A judge may award you with misdemeanor (or summary) probation in lieu of jail time.
Our California criminal defense attorneys will highlight the following in this article:
- 1. When is it a crime to drive an overweight vehicle?
- 2. Can I fight the citation?
- 3. What are the penalties for a 35551a VC violation?
- 4. Are there immigration consequences for driving overweight vehicles?
- 5. Are expungements allowed?
- 6. Can this cost me my gun rights?
- 7. Are there related offenses?
1. When is it a crime to drive an overweight vehicle?
VC 35551a makes it a crime to drive a truck on a California “highway” if its weight exceeds the limits set forth in the statute.1
A “state highway” means any road or other place that is publicly maintained and open to the public for purposes of vehicular travel.2 The code section does not apply to federal interstate highways, such as I-5, I-10, and I-80.3
Under these laws, the maximum weight for a truck depends on:
- the number of axles on a truck, and
- axle spacing, or the distance between any group of two or more axles.4
Axle weight is not a determinative factor.
The permitted gross vehicle weights set forth in the statute range from 34,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds.
California’s overweight vehicles law exists largely to protect the condition of:
- the state’s highways and highway system, and
- the state’s highway infrastructure.5
Note that these laws only apply to combinations of vehicles that contain a:
- trailer, or
This means that some trucks are exempt from the law and do not have to adhere to the weight limits set forth in the statute. Examples include:
- trucks transporting vehicles,
- trucks transporting livestock,
- dump trucks,
- cranes, and
Further, VC 35551a only applies to the weight of a vehicle. It does not address an oversize vehicle (for example, one that is overlong).
2. Can I fight the citation?
Criminal defense lawyers use different legal strategies to challenge allegations of violating this statute. Some include showing that:
- you were in the process of loading or unloading.
- you were operating a vehicle exempt from the law.
- you had a lawful permit.
2.1 Preparing for loading or unloading
Vehicle Code 35553 VC provides an exemption to the demands of these laws. It says that a truck is not subject to overweight vehicle laws if it is:
- in the immediate vicinity of an unloading or loading area, and
- actually preparing for, or, in the process of unloading or loading.6
Therefore, you can say you were unloading or loading to try and avoid an overweight conviction.
2.2 Exempt vehicle
Recall that this statute only applies to combinations of vehicles that contain a trailer or semitrailer. This means certain trucks are exempt from the law (for example, dump trucks and buses). Therefore, you can try to show that your particular truck is exempt from the law, or not subject to VC 35551a’s overweight vehicle laws.
You can always raise the defense that you were operating overweight vehicles, but had legal overweight permits.
The California Department of Transportation (CALTRANS) has the authority to issue special permits to operate oversize/overweight vehicles. Available permit types include:
- single trip permits,
- annual permits, and
- permits to carry superloads.7
To receive a permit under the permitting system, you must:
- contact the Department’s permit office (during open office hours),
- complete a permit application, and
- pay any applicable permit fees.
3. What are the penalties for a 35551a VC violation?
Most violations of these laws are charged as misdemeanors, punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and
- a maximum fine of $1,000, and
- additional fines depending on the vehicle’s excess weight.8
An exception is if the amount of excess weight is less than 4,501 pounds. In this case, a violation is only a California infraction.9 The California overweight fines for an infraction are an assessment of $250.10
4. Are there immigration consequences for driving overweight vehicles?
A violation of this statute will not result in any negative immigration consequences.
The commission of some California crimes can mean that the non-citizen defendant gets:
- deported, or
- marked as inadmissible.
Violating VC 35551a, though, does not produce either result.
5. Are expungements allowed?
You can attempt to get your conviction expunged, per Penal Code 1203.4 PC.
Expungement is normally granted provided that you successfully complete:
- county jail time, or
- misdemeanor probation.
6. Can this cost me my gun rights?
A conviction for driving an overweight vehicle will not impact your gun rights.
Some crimes in California (such as felony offenses) will result in losing your right to:
- purchase a gun,
- own a gun, and
- possess a gun.
Misdemeanors under this statute, however, do not lead to any of these results.
7. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes in California related to driving an overweight vehicle. These are:
- failure to comply with CHP rules by a commercial vehicle – VC 34506,
- limits on driving hours for bus and truck drivers – VC 21702, and
- commercial DUI – VC 23152d.
7.1 Failure to comply with CHP rules by a commercial vehicle – VC 34506
Vehicle Code 34506 VC is the California statute that makes it a crime to fail to comply with the rules adopted by the Department of the California Highway Patrol (“CHP”).
Note that driving an overweight vehicle is a violation of California’s Vehicle Code. It is not a CHP rule violation. However, the crime is often charged with some type of CHP violation.
7.2 Limits on driving hours for bus and truck drivers – VC 21702
Vehicle Code 21702 VC is the California statute that makes it a misdemeanor to drive for too many consecutive hours and/or too many hours in one day.
If you try to aggressively meet a delivery deadline, it is quite possible for you to get charged with both:
- driving for too many hours or days, and
- driving an overweight vehicle.
7.3 Commercial DUI – VC 23152d
Vehicle Code 23152(d) is California’s “commercial DUI” law. It makes it a crime to drive a commercial vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) of .04% or higher.
Unlike a conviction for driving an overweight vehicle, a commercial DUI conviction can result in you losing your commercial driver’s license (CDL).
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a criminal defense attorney, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
- California Vehicle Code 35551a VC. California Vehicle Code 42030 VC. See also Kramer v. Superior Court of Humboldt County (Cal. App. 1st Dist. 1966), 239 Cal. App. 2d 500; Hickambottom v. Cooper Transp. Co. (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1958), 163 Cal. App. 2d 489.
- California Vehicle Code 360 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 35553 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 35551 VC.
- Kramer v. Superior Court (1966) 239 Cal.App.2d 500.
- California Vehicle Code 35553 VC.
- See California’s Department of Transportation’s website, “Transportation Permits.”
- California Penal Code 19 PC. California Vehicle Code 42030 VC.
- California Vehicle Code 40000.23 VC.
- California Penal Code 19.8 PC.