North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
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November 15, 1977


Motor Vehicles; Equipment and Construction; Length Limitations on Vehicles

Requested By:

Mr. Elbert L. Peters, Jr. Commissioner of Motor Vehicles


Is a tractor and semi-trailer transporting motor vehicles (cars and trucks) permitted to have an overhang of the load on the rear of the semi-trailer if the tractor and semi-trailer, when coupled together inclusive of the front and rear bumpers, is 55' in length? (G.S. 20-116(e) (f))



G.S. 20-116(d) reads as follows:

"(d) A vehicle having two axles shall not exceed 35 feet in length of extreme overall dimensions inclusive of front and rear bumpers. A vehicle having three axles shall not exceed 40 feet in length overall of dimensions inclusive of front and rear bumpers. A truck-tractor and semitrailer shall be regarded as two vehicles for the purpose of determining lawful length and license taxes." (Emphasis added)

The length limitations set forth in G.S. 20-116(e)(f) do not apply to the vehicle only. They apply to the combination of load and vehicle.

The statutes limiting length of vehicles and combinations of vehicles are intended to promote safety. Ratliff v. Duke Power Co., 268 N.C. 605 (1966); Weavil v. Myers, 243 N.C. 386 (1955); Lyday v. So. Railway Co., 253 N.C. 687 (1960). This purpose would be thwarted if they could be circumvented by the simple expedient of lengthening the load as opposed to the vehicle.

When the Legislature has intended to allow exceptions, it has done so expressly. Examples are:

A passenger bus is specifically exempted from the width requirements of 96 inches on certain highways. (G.S. 20-116(k)).
During daylight only, any person may exceed the fifty-five foot limitation for two-vehicle combinations when "transporting poles, pipe, machinery or other objects of a structural nature which cannot be readily dismembered." (G.S. 20-116(e)).
During nighttime hours, vehicles transporting such objects operated by public utilities in emergency situations may exceed the fifty-five foot limit but clearance and marker lamps are required. (G.S. 20-116(e)).
Wreckers are permitted to tow any tractor-trailer combination in an emergency. (G.S. 20-116(e)).

Perhaps any existing confusion stems from two other statutes. G.S. 20-116(f) prohibits any load from extending more than three feet beyond front wheels or front bumper. G.S. 20-117 requires red flag (daylight) and red light (darkness) at the end of all loads which extend more than four feet beyond the rear end of the bed or body of the vehicle. In the opinion of this office, these two statutes were not intended to enlarge the length limitations set by G.S. 20-116(d) and (e).

Rufus L. Edmisten Attorney General

William W. Melvin Deputy Attorney General