"Coming through here is like shooting fish in a barrel," says Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Charlie Caplinger.
The trucks roll across electronic scales. It's Sgt. Caplinger's job to make sure they're under the legal limit.
"They're allowed to haul 80,000lbs.," says Sgt. Caplinger. "When they're allowed to haul 80,000, they try to go over that. If we allow them to haul 90,000 then they'd go over that."
Trucks that are overloaded get pulled out of the line. The drivers get a $250 ticket, plus a tax assessment for every pound they're overweight. For some drivers, it's an honest mistake. Others know exactly what they're doing.
"It's like a cat and mouse game," says truck driver Richard Busch. "Sometimes the mouse gets away. Sometimes the cat gets the mouse."
Here's how that cat and mouse game works. Overloaded rigs get off the interstate and use small 2-lane roads to avoid the scales. We got behind a driver as he got off I65 in Franklin, Kentucky just north of the scales in Tennessee. We followed him into Portland and then back out of town on Highway 52 just south of the weigh station, where he got back on the interstate without making a single stop.
"It may take them 10-15 minutes," says Sgt. Caplinger. "They go 10-15 miles out of the way, but it saves them a $250 ticket and a tax assessment for being overweight."
Overweight trucks do millions of dollars worth of damage to Tennessee roads every year, but the real danger to you and your family is when they go over bridges with posted weight limits.
"A lot of those structures are 70, 80, even 100 years old, and they will be posted," says Tennessee Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Paul Degges. "They're perfectly safe to drive across, but if you bring overloads on some of those things, you can have a catastrophic failure."
FOX17 found 18 wheelers, which routinely weigh 70,000-80,000lbs., rolling across aging bridges posted for much less. In the past year, the Highway Patrol doled out over 6400 overweight tickets, but only 48 of them were on posted bridges.
"I think it happens more often than not because we simply just do not have the resources to be everywhere all the time," says Sgt. Caplinger.
"Roads are safe if you follow the rules," says Tennessee Department of Transportation Chief Engineer Paul Decker.
Decker says the posted weight limits mean exactly what they say, but one trucker from Iowa who's been ticketed for being overweight more than once has a different understanding.
"Whatever they rate the bridge, it's usually 10,000lbs. less than what the bridge can hold," says truck driver Richard Busch.
TDOT says that's a recipe for disaster. There have been 8 bridge failures in Tennessee since 1976, the most recent in 2007. In every case, the failures were caused by overloaded trucks.
"Not only are people risking their lives, but they could be risking other people's lives if they drive an overload across one of these bridges," says Decker.
The same bridges you cross to get to work and the ones your children cross to get home. Tennessee has been lucky so far. Only one person has been hurt in our recent bridge collapses, but too much weight was a key factor in that deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007. That's the type of tragedy the THP is trying to avoid, but right now truckers are virtually on the honor system on aging Tennessee bridges.
Special Report Videos
BC-US--Dow Record-Three Personal Stories, 1st Ld-Writethru,1173
Dow Record: Three tales of ups, downs and changes
AP Photo FX102, FX103
Eds: With BC-US--Dow Record. Adds photos.
By SCOTT MAYEROWITZ
AP Business Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- When the Dow first crossed 14,000, investors were overjoyed. ...
IN THE NEWS: iPHONE RECOVERED AFTER THEFT IN OREGON
MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) -- A smartphone, plus a not-so-smart criminal -- equals an arrest in Oregon.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- George Washington University students will soon be walking all over the White House and the Capitol, too.