Michigan’s Semi Trailer Laws, Explained

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Trucking is a key part of Michigan commerce and infrastructure, but these large vehicles can be rather intimidating and dangerous. Following federal and state laws can help truckers operate safely and protect themselves, their cargo, and nearby motorists.

What’s the Difference Between a Semi-Trailer and a Semi-Truck?


While the terms semi-trailer and semi-truck are often used interchangeably, they technically have different meanings. Semi-trailers are cargo containers pulled by semi-trucks. While semi-trucks can operate independently, trailers cannot.

What are the legal dimensions of a semi-trailer in Michigan?


Michigan truck weight limits are determined by the weight on each axle, rather than the total vehicle weight. This is different from federal limits and those of many states and allows trucks in Michigan to weigh up to 164,000lbs which is more than double the federal limit. Studies have shown that fewer, heavier trucks do less damage to roads than a greater number of lighter trucks and having heavier trucks makes transportation cheaper. It is certainly understandable why the state government allows these behemoths on our roads, but heavy trucks can also be very dangerous. If you were hurt in a Michigan truck accident, you should contact an experienced lawyer to make sure you get the compensation you deserve.

Other Michigan semi-truck maximum dimensions for standard loads include:

  • Semi-trailer with full access may be up to 50ft long
  • Semi-trailers on Designated highways may be up to 53ft long
  • Lowboy trailers may extend up to 59ft long
  • Trailers may exceed 13ft, 6in in height (without a special permit)
  • A semi-trailer’s width may not exceed 102in
  • The total outside width of the load of a vehicle hauling concrete pipe, agricultural products or unprocessed logs, pulpwood or wood bolts may not exceed 108 inches.

Federal Guidelines and Laws


Michigan truck drivers, like all drivers across the nation, are subject to federal laws. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) both work to ensure that our nation’s roads are as safe as possible. The transportation section of the Code of Federal Regulations contains a comprehensive list of the laws that apply to motorists using public roadways in the U.S.

What is the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act?


The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 called for the secretary of state to create federal minimum standards for licensing and testing of Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) operators, including truck drivers. This same act also requires States to report the issuance of these licenses as well as conduct roadside inspection of CMVs and blood alcohol tests of drivers. This act shaped many of the current laws and regulations regarding trucks at both the federal and state levels.

Do Trailers need Their Own Insurance Policies?


Under Michigan law, most trailers are considered “motor vehicles” and therefore required to have No-Fault insurance. That insurance could be from the same policy insuring the truck pulling the trailer or a separate policy. Smaller trailers can be insured if the owner would like to be as protected as possible, but it is not required.

Different Types of Insurance Coverage for Semi-Trucks


Because semi-trucks are so diverse in their designs and purposes, many different types of semi-truck insurance coverage exist, including the following:

  • No-Fault: Includes Personal Injury Protection (PIP), Property Protection (PPI), and Bodily Injury and Property Damage (BI/PD) Residual Liability Insurance.
  • Primary Liability: Covers Bodily Injury and Property Damage caused by an accident that was the truck driver’s fault.
  • General Liability: Covers risks not associated with operating the truck (like transporting goods to the wrong location)
  • Physical Damage: Protects drivers when their truck is damaged
  • Bobtailing: Applies when there is no trailer attached to the truck
  • Motor Truck Cargo: Covers damage to cargo in transit
  • Rental Reimbursement: Helps truck drivers involved in an accident secure a rental truck while their vehicle is being repaired
  • Trailer Interchange: Covers damage to trailers not owner by the driver
  • Medical Payment: Covers injuries to the truck driver and passengers
  • Underinsured/Uninsured Motorist: Protects trucks when they are hit by someone without (or with inadequate) insurance
  • Reefer Breakdown: Covers damages to goods in a refrigerated trailer with a broken cooling system

Michigan Semi-Truck Insurance Requirements


Truck drivers who operate a vehicle of over 10,000lbs only in the state of Michigan are required to carry liability coverage based on their cargo.

  • $300,000 (for household items)
  • $750,000 (for general freight)
  • $1,000,000 (for oil)
  • $5,000,000 (for hazardous materials)

Federal Semi-Truck Insurance Requirements


The FMCSA requires truckers engaging in interstate commerce to carry the following insurance:

  • $750,000 to $5 million in public liability insurance for general freighters (depending upon the type of cargo being transported)
  • $300,000 in public liability insurance for non-hazardous cargo (for vehicles weighing less than 10,001 pounds)
  • $5,000 cargo insurance (for freighters carrying household goods)

Does No-Fault Insurance Apply Outside of Michigan?


If you are a Michigan resident who was involved in an accident in another state or Canada, your No-Fault benefits will still apply. These cases can be complicated, however, because out-of-state lawyers may want to sue for economic losses already covered by No-Fault to increase their fees. If you do get compensation from both PIP coverage and a third-party case, your insurance company may even assert a lien on your third-party benefits. The best thing to do if you are injured as a Michigan resident while traveling out of state is to call an experienced lawyer based in Michigan who understands our No-Fault laws.

Who is Liable in a Truck Accident?


Depending on the circumstances of your accident, the trucking company, the truck manufacturer, and or a third-party contractor may be liable.

Trucking companies are frequently liable for the negligence of their employees under Michigan law. You may additionally be able to sue the trucking company for poor maintenance, inadequate training, or falsifying information in order to let the driver drive longer than they should without a break or sleep.

If the accident was caused by a mechanical failure in the truck, the company may be at-fault for not having the truck properly inspected. The manufacturer of the part that failed may also be liable.
An experienced Michigan truck accident attorney can help you identify all the parties that are potentially liable in your suit in order to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.

Property Damage in Truck Accidents


After an auto-accident in Michigan, all parties should submit a claim to their No-Fault insurance provider regardless of who caused the accident. These benefits should help cover bodily injury and property damages. Drivers who were not at-fault can additionally sue anyone that is 50% or more at fault for the crash for up to $1,000 through the Michigan mini-tort provision.

Were You Hurt in a Michigan Semi-Truck Accident? We Can Help.

At the Mike Morse Law Firm, we know how painful and difficult truck accidents can be. Our expert attorneys are prepared to fight for the compensation you deserve. Call us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) or visit our contact page to set up a free consultation.

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