For many Ohio drivers, knowing the rules of the road pertains to things like wearing your seat belt, staying below the speed limit or using a turn signal. But there are many rules that only apply to drivers of a big rig with a heavy load. Some of the road rules that were created for those situations literally change with the weather, including the frost law.
Listen to Legal with Leah, a podcast featuring Ohio Farm Bureau’s Policy Counsel Leah Curtis discussing topics impacting farmers and landowners.
Ty Higgins For many Ohio drivers, knowing the rules of the road pertains to things like wearing your seat belt, staying below the speed limit or using your turn signal. But there are many rules out there that only apply if you’re driving a big rig with a heavy load, as many farmers typically do. Some of the road rules that were created for those situations literally change with the weather, including the frost law. That’s our focus on this Legal with Leah. Ohio Farm Bureau Policy Counsel Leah Curtis joins me. And Leah, the frost law came up a time or two in December at our annual meeting with Ohio Farm Bureau delegates working on state policy there. Before we get into how this law impacts farmers, give us an overview of what the frost law actually is.
Leah Curtis In the state of Ohio, like most states, we have a set of weight limits that apply throughout the state for our roads. Not going into too much detail, but generally there’s an 80,000 pound gross weight limit for the total weight of your vehicle. And then there are axel weight limitations where you use a math equation to figure out what that would be. And that’s called the federal bridge formula. But roads can have their weights reduced. Usually that’s for safety or the integrity of the road. And the frost law is one of those ways that you would reduce weight. And it is done to protect the integrity of the road, particularly during the springtime. We have that cycle of freeze and thaw and freeze and thaw and that makes the the roadbed very unstable and that makes the road more likely to have things like divots and potholes and cracks and damage that then makes the road unstable. Then it has to be repaired. So the frost law is a way for the weight limit to be reduced to try to reduce that damage that might occur when that roadbed is unsteady.
Ty Higgins You mentioned that the federal bridge formula. Who sets up the frost law rules and is there a statewide weight reduction when it’s in effect?
Leah Curtis No. So whoever has jurisdiction of the road is who determines whether the frost law applies to that road. And so the state can use it on their roads, they can reduce a weight up to 25%. And then within a county, any improve road, that would include a township road, the county commissioners would be the ones who approve those highways to be reduced and they would be reduced up to 50%. Typically, the process that happens is the county commissioners work with the engineer and the township trustees in their county to look at what roads might need to be reduced. And then the county commissioners are the ones who ultimately make the decision.
Ty Higgins So Ohio farmers hauling certain commodities get the 7.5% variance on weight. Does that apply with the frost law as well?
Leah Curtis That does not apply with the frost law. When we look at the 7.5% variance, there are exceptions to that exception. And one of them is the frost law. Whenever the weight is reduced, for that reason, you don’t get to have the 7.5% variance. You need to comply with the posted reduce weight limit. And that is similar too if a road is reduced due to safety. If a bridge or road is unsafe and needs to be at a lower weight, then that 7.5% variance doesn’t apply either. I also always as we start the new year, I like to remind people the 7.5% variance does not apply on any roads in the months of February and March. So somebody always ends up calling me, you know, right around February or March. They get pulled over and they think they have the variance and they don’t in those two months. So always be aware of that and be extra cognizant of those weight limits during those months.
Ty Higgins What was the concern at annual meeting and what are we trying to do to solve those problems?
Leah Curtis So some of the concerns were…could the frost law be used to kind of target a certain industry or a certain individual by reducing the weight limit on their roads specifically? The other concern was each road is set at a different weight limit. So should there be uniformity? Ultimately, what our delegates discussed was, though, that the frost law is really important to having good infrastructure. And so they ultimately left in our policy that while we do want to have certain exemptions for farmers, for their vehicles and their machinery from weight limits, we do want to still have the frost law in effect, because we do need to have good infrastructure. We want to respect that good infrastructure. And so we we need to make sure that maintains its integrity.
Ty Higgins Seems like the middle of nowhere it’s hard to enforce these laws and maybe catch someone that’s going above and beyond what the weight limits called during the frost law and outside of the frost law. How is this enforced? And are there ways for farmers to still get business done on the farm when the frost law does take effect?
Leah Curtis Any weight reductions have to be posted. So there are some guidelines as to where those postings have to happen at major intersections or in certain points on the roadway. So you would know that road is reduced and it’s like any other weight infraction. You would be pulled over, you would be weighed. And then if you are over the weight, you would be ticketed. Now, some counties have taken a step to create a permit for these situations. And so you may be able to get a permit from your county commissioners that says you can still travel at the normal weight or at a higher weight on that reduced road for a certain number of trips or during those months. It’s something each county has the ability to do and they can make that choice. So that’s something you’d have to contact your county about to see if it was applicable.
Ty Higgins And, you know, frost in Ohio can happen anytime from September to April, May. It just depends on really the weather.
Leah Curtis Yeah, it does. And so typically we see this between the months of maybe like the earliest usually we’d see it in December latest would probably be in April or May. But the law doesn’t say it can only happen during a certain month because it’s actually for excessive thaw or moisture. So it actually could be used even in a time where maybe like the summer we had lots and lots of rain, lots of flooding. You know, theoretically, they could have used the weight limits at that time to be reduced as well, to try to protect the integrity of the road.