Weighing In

What are highway weigh stations all about? And why should we care?



A large weigh station along Interstate 95 in Martin County.

FLORIDA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION

Q: What is the purpose of highway weigh stations?

A: Answer Man has always been somewhat fearful of weigh stations, believing as a child that traveling family members could be forced atop the scales and fined for gorging on too many pralines from Stuckey’s.

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Or maybe that was just a bad dream.

The primary purpose of the stations is to weigh transport trucks to ensure that they aren’t over established limits and to spot safety violations, according to officials with the Florida Department of Transportation. And why should you care? Because overweight loads can be hard on highways and bridges (and taxpayers’ wallets), and an overloaded truck can be dangerous to others on the road. Weight also determines how much a commercial vehicle pays for a license plate.

The weight limit on federal highways is 80,000 pounds for all 18-wheeler trucks. The fine is 5 cents per pound over that.
Florida has 32 weigh stations, ranging from small platforms beside two-lane highways to sprawling complexes along interstates. The latter feature “weigh in motion’’ technology—trucks are weighed electronically as they pass over sensors in the pavement. If they’re too heavy, they have to pull over for manual weighing and/or inspection. Even the average motorist driving a rental truck or pulling a commercial trailer behind his car is expected to stop at a weigh station. (The car-trailer combo can’t exceed 10,000 pounds.) Travel trailers, camping trailers and motor homes are exempt.

Q: Are hurricanes with female names deadlier than their male counterparts?

A: Apparently we make them so, say researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University, who looked at six decades of death rates from U.S. hurricanes and determined that feminine-named storms kill significantly more people than do masculine-named hurricanes. It supposedly has to do with the weird expectation among the masses that storms with female names are somehow kinder and gentler, resulting in lax preparedness. The study came under fire from some quarters for its methodology (for instance, before 1979 all storms were named for females so although the researchers say they made allowances for that, critics say the results were still skewed).

However, the researchers also asked people to react to the names of hurricanes and found that, for instance, respondents would consider a storm named Alexander more serious than Alexandra, or Christopher deadlier than Christina.

So is there some implied sexism in the way we judge storms? Perhaps former National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield put it best when he responded to the Washington Post’s request for comment.

“Why would any intelligent person think that a hurricane with a female name could not be as intense as a hurricane with a male name?’’ Mayfield said. “I can’t help anyone who thinks like that.”

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