Vehicle Code 35551a VC is the California statute that sets forth the permissible weight limits for commercial vehicles. A driver violates the law, and his/her vehicle is deemed “overweight,” if the vehicle exceeds these weight measures. A violation of this statute can lead to misdemeanor charges and six months in county jail.
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 his/her 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 his/her vehicle with overweight loads that exceed permissible weight limits.
A person can use a legal defense to challenge an allegation of violating this statute. Common defenses include a driver showing that he/she:
- was in the process of preparing for loading or unloading,
- was driving an exempt vehicle, and/or
- had a vehicle permit that allowed for an oversize load.
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 a defendant 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 a driver fight the citation?
- 3. What are the penalties for a 35551a VC violation?
- 4. Are there immigration consequences for drivers of 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 for a driver of a commercial vehicle 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 (i.e., one that is overlength).
2. Can a driver fight the citation?
Criminal defense lawyers use different legal strategies to challenge allegations of violating this statute. Some include showing that:
- the accused was in the process of loading or unloading.
- the defendant driver was operating a vehicle exempt from the law.
- the accused 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
A defendant, then, can say he/she was 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 (e.g., dump trucks and buses). Therefore, a defendant can try to show that his/her particular truck is exempt from the law, or not subject to VC 35551a’s overweight vehicle laws.
Drivers can always raise the defense that they were operating overweight vehicles, but had legal overweight permits.
The California Department of transportation (CALTRANS) has the authority to issue drivers 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, drivers 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. Crimes are punishable by:
- custody in county jail for up to six months, and
- a maximum fine of $1,000.8
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 penalty for overweight vehicles as an infraction is a fine of $250.10
4. Are there immigration consequences for drivers of 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:
Violating VC 35551a, though, does not produce either result.
5. Are expungements allowed?
A person convicted under these laws can attempt to get the conviction expunged, per Penal Code 1203.4 PC.
Expungement is normally granted provided that the defendant successfully completes:
- county jail time, or
- misdemeanor probation.
6. Can this cost me my gun rights?
A conviction for driving an overweight vehicle will not impact a person’s gun rights.
Some crimes in California (e.g., felony offenses) will result in an offender losing his/her 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 if a commercial driver fails 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 for bus and truck drivers to drive for too many consecutive hours and/or too many hours in one day.
If a trucker tries to aggressively meet a delivery deadline, it is quite possible for him/her to get charged with both:
- driving for too many hours or days, and
- driving an overweight vehicle.
7.3 Commercial DUI – VC 23152d
Unlike a conviction for driving an overweight vehicle, a commercial DUI conviction can result in the driver losing his/her 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 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 40000.23 VC.
- California Penal Code 19.8 PC.