With regard to O.C.G.A. § 32-6-26(i), a provision of Georgia's truck weight laws, you have requested my opinion whether this Code section allows trucks to equalize their load to comply with truck weight laws, when it has been determined by DOT officials that one or more of the truck axles are overloaded, by changing the position of the truck's "sliding tandem" or by changing the fifth wheel setting. It is my opinion that this Code section does not allow such equalization. For the reasons stated herein, O.C.G.A. § 32-6-26(i) requires that the truck driver must physically shift the load so as to bring the load into compliance with Georgia's truck weight laws.

O.C.G.A. § 32-6-26(i)(1) states:

Any vehicle which can be made to comply with the requirements of this Code section by shifting the load and which is then loaded to comply with this Code section shall not be held in violation of this Code section. [*2]

A plain reading of this Code section shows that the truck can only be brought into compliance by shifting the load. There is no indication that compliance can be obtained by repositioning certain axles or by changing the wheel setting. If the General Assembly had intended for compliance to be obtained by any means other than repositioning the load, it could have specifically so stated.

The legislative history of this statute suggests that the General Assembly specifically intended not to allow compliance to be obtained by repositioning certain axles or changing a wheel setting. Prior to 1978, Ga. Code Ann. 95A-959 [now O.C.G.A. § 32-6-26(i)(1)] stated:

If the driver of any vehicle can comply with the requirements of this section by shifting or equalizing the load on all wheels or axles and does so when requested by the proper authority, said driver shall not be held to be operating in violation of this section.

In 1978, this Code section was amended by deleting the phrases "or equalizing" and "on all wheels or axles." By so doing, and by further specifying that compliance be obtained by "load[ing] to comply with this Code section", the General Assembly intended that compliance [*3] could only be obtained by physically shifting the load and not by equalizing the load by repositioning axles or changing wheel settings.

There are policy considerations for this interpretation of the law. If truck drivers are allowed to bring their trucks into compliance by equalizing the load, there will be no incentive for the trucker to properly load the truck prior to entering the weigh station, and, if the truck can easily be equalized, there is nothing to prevent the truck driver from reconfigurating the wheels to the previous position after the driver leaves the weigh station. On the other hand, if the trucker knows that the load will have to be physically shifted to bring the truck into compliance, he will have every incentive to load the truck properly before sending it onto the highways.

As you are aware, "[i]t has long been recognized that overweight vehicles may reasonably be supposed to damage the public roads." DOT v. Del-Cook Timber Company, 248 Ga. 734, 741 (1982). The interpretation of O.C.G.A. § 32-6-26(a) stated herein is consistent with the General Assembly's intent to prohibit overweight vehicles from travelling on Georgia's roads.

It is therefore [*4] my unofficial opinion that compliance with Georgia's truck weight laws can only be achieved under O.C.G.A. § 32-6-26(i)(1) by physically shifting the truck's load.