CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – New Hampshire officials say the state’s low fines for overweight trucks do little to curtail heavy loads, which cause long-term damage to bridges and highways.

New Hampshire also fines overweight truckers less than other New England states, they say. The state’s fine for exceeding the weight limit – no matter by how much – is $100 plus a $20 court fee.

“We really don’t feel that the fines on the interstate are as high as they should be,” said Assistant Safety Commissioner Earl Sweeney.

The fine is the cost of doing business for some truckers, he said.

“It’s just my sense they could be higher,” he added.

A truck with five or more axles operating on a state interstate highway can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds, or 99,000 pounds if the state certifies it for extra weight. However, the state Highway Patrol does not impose a fine unless the truck is 5 percent above the certified limit, meaning it can weigh up to 103,950 pounds.

Raymond Cook, a civil engineering professor at the University of New Hampshire, said overloaded trucks cause fatigue cracking on bridges. Fatigue cracking is one suspected factor in the Minneapolis bridge collapse. Cook said it is a fancy name for repeated cycles of high stress – much like paper clips can snap if bent repeatedly.

Most steel bridges were originally designed about 40 years ago for trucks as heavy as 72,000 pounds – not the higher weights allowed today, said Cook.

“The regular traffic – cars, light trucks, pickup trucks, delivery trucks – they don’t put any stress on a bridge at all to speak of,” Cook said.

New Hampshire can charge more for a violation off the interstate highways – 2 cents per pound over the limit, with $100 being the minimum fine. It charges $250 for any other violation that a truck receives within the same year, plus the 2-cents-per-pound penalty if the truck is found off the interstate highway. And the state courts add 20 percent to any weight fine.

New Hampshire has had the flat $100 fine for weight violations on the interstate highways since 1979. In 1949, the state charged between $25 and $500 for violations. In the mid-1970s, a driver who violated the weight limits faced a misdemeanor charge if he was a New Hampshire resident and a felony if he was from out of state.

House Transportation Chairman Jim Ryan said the state probably should review the fine structure. “If you can assume the fine is the cost of doing business, the fines are probably too low,” he said. “While trucks are necessary for our economy, they also have to be good corporate citizens. And they have to stay safe.”

New Hampshire’s fines are still less stringent than those of neighboring states, which don’t cap their penalties.

In Vermont, an overweight truck has to pay a sum for each 1,000-pound increment over the limit. A truck between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds too heavy will have to pay a $113 fine, and then at least $30 more for each additional 1,000 pounds. The fine increases by $150 for each additional half-ton that’s more than 25,000 pounds over the limit. Those fees increase for repeated offenses.

In Massachusetts, fines are $40 per 1,000 pounds for the first 10,000 pounds overweight, and $80 per each 1,000-pound increment above the limit after that.

In Maine, a truck between 1 percent and 10 percent over the limit must pay $10 for each percent. The fines increase from there: A truck must pay $180 for each percent over 50 percent above the limit, plus $3,950.

Gary Merrill, co-owner of a Salem excavating company, said that while he doesn’t run trucks overweight. He only gets $15 per ton of sand and gravel. Heavier loads would simply mean his trucks will break down sooner.

But he said it might make economic sense for others hauling more expensive materials when the overweight fine is so minimal.

For example, asphalt costs between $40 and $60 per ton to haul, and the sale of an extra three tons would cover the fine.

The New Hampshire Highway Patrol weighed 247,316 trucks last year. Of those, 5,297 received violations for exceeding the limit. Vermont authorities weighed 21,513 trucks last year, finding 5,044 above the limit. The Massachusetts State Police weighed 88,656 trucks, finding 5,820 in violation.

New Hampshire weighs more trucks because it has two weigh stations on Interstate 93, said Sgt. John Begin of the Highway Patrol. The stations have weight-in-motion sensors that allow trucks to be measured without forcing them to stop. New Hampshire uses portable scales for trucks off of I-93.

Information from: Concord Monitor,

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