Reduced loads: It’s time for a change

by Mike Millian

Frost Laws, as they are commonly called, have been around in most Canadian provinces in one form or another since 1949. The laws vary by province and territory, but for the most part they reduce loads allowed on designated secondary highways during the spring thaw by anywhere from 10-50% of weights allowed during normal conditions.

Most jurisdictions exempt main highways from the reductions, although some will re-categorize some main roads during reduced load periods, which does lower the weights allowed. The majority of provinces will also exempt certain commodities and essential services from these limits, such as milk, grain, livestock, heating fuels, etc. Most northern US states, and some European countries, also have some form of frost law, or reduced load period. The reason for these laws are justifiable, and all research shows that reducing loads allowed on roads during thaw periods reduces damage to our roadways, extends their lives and saves money over a road’s life-cycle.

I believe we all are in agreement that these laws need to exist to protect our infrastructure. We do, however, need to realize that service needs to continue for businesses that operate – and are located – on these roadways. Exemptions that are in place in almost all jurisdictions demonstrate that governments are aware of this as well, however some of these exemptions have not been updated since the regulations were originally put in place some 60 plus years ago.   

In Ontario, the reduced load period runs on designated roads from March 1 to Apr. 30 in the south, and March 1 to May 31 in the north. Vehicles operating on these roads are limited to 5,000 kgs per axle. This limit is imposed on all axles, including the steer axle. Exemptions are in place for the following: Municipal trucks, or those clearing or working on the highways on behalf of municipalities; fire trucks; waste trucks; and public utility vehicles. A complete exemption also exists for trucks transporting milk.

Partial exemptions, allowing 7,500 kgs per axle, exist for the following vehicles: Two-axle tank trucks used for transporting liquid or gaseous heating fuels; two-axle trucks used for the transportation of livestock feed; and any vehicle configuration transporting live poultry. These exemptions clearly indicate that when the laws were originally created, the government realized that a lot of farming operations, and related businesses, are located on the roadways that are most affected by reduced loads.

In my view, here are where problems exist with how the reduced load limit regs are currently written:

The 5,000-kg limit on all axles, including steer axles: This creates a major problem, and one that cannot be rectified by the carrier in a lot of situations. Many vehicles today, especially vocational straight trucks, are manufactured with 20,000-lb (9,072-kgs) front ends. In most cases, the weight on the steer axle of these vehicles will be over the five-tonne limit when empty. So these vehicles can’t legally operate on the road at all under the current HTA regs. A simple solution to this would be to exempt the steer axle from this reg, or increase the limit to 7,500 kgs on the steer, as a lot of other jurisdictions already have in place.

Partial exemptions: The partial exemptions that allow certain vehicles to carry 7,500 kgs on the axles, in my view, is a good compromise.

The problem I have with this exemption is who and what types of vehicles are allowed to utilize it.  The list includes: two-axle tank trucks used for home heating fuel and two-axle trucks used exclusively for feed. While these laws may have made sense decades ago when they were created, they are extremely limiting and no longer serve the purpose they were created for at the time. Farm operations have changed over the years. Most farms are now big businesses and operate thousands of acres of land and thousands of animals. As a result, the amount of product that needs to be delivered to these operations has increased substantially and as a result is delivered to these operations with the use of multi-axle vehicles. When the laws were created, the majority of vehicles delivering to farm operations were two-axle trucks; this is no longer the case and has not been for years. This law, in my view, needs to be updated to 7,500 kgs per axle, regardless of the amount of axles on the vehicle.  This exemption is already in the Highway Traffic Act, as any truck transporting live poultry is allowed 7,500 kgs per axle, regardless of the amount of axles in the configuration (provided they comply with normal HTA axle limits).

It would make sense to extend these exemptions to the trucks that supply the heat and feed to the poultry. Which leads me to another point, why is this exemption in place for live poultry only?

Full exemptions: Complete exemptions exist, with no limits imposed, for municipal trucks, waste trucks, public utility vehicles and milk trucks. 

I understand the need to exempt municipal trucks to ensure roads are maintained for the public but what I don’t understand is why a milk truck is exempt, while a livestock, feed or home heating fuel truck is not? I believe it is time the reduced load limit rules and exemptions are reviewed, with updates made to reflect the business world as it exists today.

I am not proposing exemptions are lifted and we go to a free-for-all and carry full weights year-round. I do, however, believe these rules need to be updated in order to ensure essential services and businesses related to these services, are allowed to operate without suffering unrealistic costs and hardship.


Mike Millian is president of the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada, the only national association that represents the views and interests of the private fleet industry. He can be reached at

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  • I’ve always wondered about the practicality of the 5000 kg rule as it applies to the steer axle. Even a highway tractor with 11″ front tires is pushing that limit. It would be nice if Ontario would take a lesson from Michigan and stop establishing load restrictions by the calendar, and use common sense and weather conditions instead. Through some mild winters, load restrictions should have been in place in mid February, and removed by early April. Load restrictions are obviously also commerce restrictions, and if they can practically be removed early, should be.