Original Author: Ashburn, Melissa
Date of Material: 07/15/2002
Motor vehicles--Laws and regulations
Traffic--Laws and regulations
Reviewed Date: 05/06/2020
MTAS was asked about the ability of a city to regulate the weight and route of trucks traveling on city streets.
DATE: July 15, 2002
FROM: Melissa A. Ashburn, Legal Consultant
RE: Inquiry concerning regulation of trucks
You have advised me that a city has made a request for information concerning the city’s ability to regulate large trucks traveling through city limits. Some regulation of trucks is permitted in Tennessee, as long as interstate commerce is not impacted.
Although there is no express statutory authority for a municipality to impose weight limits on vehicles traveling on city streets, the Courts and the Attorney General have opined that municipalities have such power. Collier v. Baker, 27 S.W.2d 1085 (Tenn.1930); Tenn. Atty. Gen. Op. No. 98-128. The authority of a municipality to impose such regulations is based on the police powers of a city, and any ordinance incorporating those regulations therefore must be crafted so that the interest of public safety is the primary interest served. Such power, of course, only extends to city owned streets, and may not be used to restrict travel on state highways.
It is important when determining how the city desires to regulate the travel of trucks to keep in mind that businesses may not be subjected to “unreasonable burdens.” Tenn. Atty. Gen. Op. No. 98-128. Trucks used in the operation of a business located in or near city boundaries must have the ability to access the business location for pick-up or delivery. If regulations are passed which restrict the ability of drivers to access the business location, then chances are suit will be brought against the city at which time the ordinance will come under scrutiny. The restrictions imposed by such an ordinance will be deemed “unreasonable” if it operates to limit the number of trucks and the amount of materials which can be moved in any period of time. Such circumstances would result in interference with interstate commerce.
I understand that Mike Tallent has already provided a list of cities in Tennessee which have adopted ordinances to address this issue. Cities may restrict trucks from driving through residential areas, if another route is available, and may impose weight restrictions for travel on other city streets.
If city streets are damaged by excessive use by a business employing heavy trucks, there is caselaw to support a case against such business for the costs of repairing the streets. One element of such a claim is that the business must be put on notice that heavy trucks are causing damage to the streets, and such use must continue after the business has been notified.
I hope this information is helpful.