Drivers pass them every day and don't always think much of them, but there's more to weigh stations than meets the eye. That's why the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles opened up their Troutville station along Interstate 81 for tours Thursday afternoon.
"There's just a wealth of information to be learned from a weigh station," said Michael Baxter, state director of motor carrier size and weight services for the DMV. "People are surprised at all the things we look at to make sure that trucks are safe on the highway."
Before a truck even make it to the scales, agents use infrared technology to check the truck's brakes and tires and to make sure nothing is leaking from the cab or trailer.
As the trucks pull in to the scales, a computer reads their license plate and pulls up the driver's credentials to make sure they're allowed to be on the road and that they don't owe the state any money in unpaid fees.
Finally, the trucks are weighed to make sure they meet requirements or that they've paid for special permits to offset the toll heavy trucks take on the roads.
"We want to motivate truckers to move freight in Virginia," Baxter said, "and that's a primary goal. But we need to do it safely and on good roads."
The DMV says that safety is key because drivers understandably have concerns about trucks, and they spent time addressing some of those issues during the tour.
Baxter says the No. 1 question he gets asked is why some trucks are allowed to pass by weigh stations without stopping. He says about 20 percent of them use a pay service that allows them to do that.
"It is weighed as it's traveling on the interstate," Baxter said. "We have equipment in the road to weigh that while it's moving."
Trucks that use the pay service have transponders installed in their cabs. When it passes over those scales, which are about a mile away from the weigh station, it sends a signal to the weigh station. As long as everything checks out, the truck is allowed to keep moving.
There were also questions about why weigh stations close. The Troutville station is one of three in Virginia that operates 24/7, but there are some instances when it will close.
"Safety-wise, if you have too many trucks that are backing up on the ramp, to prevent backups on the main interstate, the station technology will automatically close the station until that congestion is over," Baxter said.
Approximately 3 million trucks pass through the Troutville weigh station each year. Depending on the time of year, the station sees 15,000-20,000 trucks daily.