Overloading beyond the 13.5 T axle limit is against the law

Axle folly

Overloading beyond the 13.5 T axle limit is against the law; the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) never fails to remind us. To think, 13.5 T is already generous compared to some countries abroad with even lower axle payload limits. The last time DPWH wanted to subject all haulers coming into and leaving the Port of Manila to mandatory weighing, the truckers threatened a blockade. Every time DPWH tries to apply the law, the economy is faced or hostaged, whether intentionally or accidentally, to threats of economic paralysis. Why? Since we don't have a countrywide freight railway system, all our goods travel by truck, nowadays part and parcel of what is fashionably called, the Logistics industry.

Roads with short lifespans

So what's wrong with overloading? They lead to the destruction of our roads. Instead of lasting several years, we end up with broken, cracked, and potholed roads after a few months. Our engineers end up with specifications that up the ante for resistance to overloading which results in higher costs and fewer roads being built for a given budget. We end up with bridges requiring frequent restoration, resulting in bridge closures and traffic diversions. Never mind if the 25 storms that batter us every year result in some more bridges and roads being washed away.

Multiple axles

But some positive steps have been taken. In recent years, we have seen the proliferation of 6 to 8-axle juggernaut freight trucks, since multiplying the number of weight-bearing axles is a good way to distribute the load. That way the pavement and its sub-strata aren't subjected to pinpoint concentrated hammering of several tons of pressure.

Sand in the wheels

The problem is the burgeoning sand/aggregate hauling industry. Spurred by the hyperactive construction sector, the imported used Japanese dump trucks are doubled in dumper loading capacity by raising the dumper's walls. One can imagine how much over the design weight limit these double-height dump trucks are and the kind of road damage these can do. But unlike the other kinds of trucks, dumper trucks usually do not go beyond 3 axles, unless these are articulated dump trucks that can have up to even 7 axles. As always, these multi-axled dumpers cost a multiple over regular 3-axled ones.

Gateways to the Metro

Since the Metro is served by a handful of congested and narrow national roads, the main route of freight and sand haulers are the toll expressways. By default, the toll expressways have assumed the solemn duty to be the sentinels of the overloading law. Besides the acquisition of mobile weighing scales and the installation of weigh-in-motion lanes at toll barriers, and the considerable training of personnel these require, the toll expressways have to deal with irate drivers and haulers who are used to not having their passage impeded only to go slow in order to hurl “grease money”, bundled up in exact change amounts, to waiting for corrupt so-called officers of the law at highway checkpoints. Early in the NLEx's operation in 2006, security personnel were killed when their patrol vehicle was sideswiped by a dump truck driver who refused to heed their summons to pull over to be cited, fined, and exit the tollway for being overloaded.

Weighing in

On the surface, the authorities may have a fighting chance of keeping overloaded vehicles off the roads if the toll operators do their job of ferreting the violators at the entry point toll plazas. That is assuming that the weighing equipment work. Some installed weighing equipment are not able to cope with providing a quick enough reading thus the tollway operator is faced with the dilemma of slowing down passage through the toll plaza or keeping the traffic flowing with a random weighing checkpoint past the toll plaza. Experienced spotters are usually well-trained in identifying loaded trucks ripe for a random weight check by judging the clearance between rear wheel housing and tires. Mobile weighing scales are also deployed along the expressway just in case overloaded dump trucks enter via the minor entry/exits. Unfortunately, many of these mobile weighing scales multi-task as patrols and sometimes have to abandon weighing violating trucks if they have to respond to an emergency or rescue summons from hotline central. Conspiracy theorists and anti-corruption crusaders can easily conjure up collusion scenarios to keep anti-overloading weighing teams from catching violators by vacating their posts just as the violators are to pass.

Ideally, it is best to catch overloading before entering the expressway and eventually the city. Doing this also avoids chasing down erring drivers on the tollway or as in the case nine years ago, getting tollway personnel run down and killed by stubborn drivers.