BEIJING - China is bringing in new rules in an attempt to park the problem of overloaded vehicles damaging the country's crumbling highways and to make the roads safer, the transportation authorities said on Wednesday.
The new legislation - the Regulation on the Protection of Road Safety - makes it possible to punish drivers more severely than in the past if they are caught behind the wheel of overloaded cars or trucks.
The new rules will take effect in July, said He Jianzhong, a spokesman with the Ministry of Transport, during a press conference in Beijing.
It is the first administrative regulation to target protecting the nation's road network since the current Regulation of Highway Management was issued in 1987.
"Truck drivers who break the legal limit on how much freight they can carry three times in a year will lose their business license," He said.
And transportation companies will be banned from operating if one-tenth of their vehicles are found to be overloaded.
The ministry also said the new law offers tough penalties for manufacturers and dealers who produce or sell cars and trucks with illegal load capacities.
In addition, inspections of trucks will be strengthened in places where coal, cement and other bulk cargos are collected and distributed.
The ministry said the new effort is part of an attempt to protect the highways.
China's roads have long suffered from extra wear and tear because of illegally overloaded trucks. Last year, a 160-km traffic jam near Beijing developed on the Beijing-Tibet Highway because the road had deteriorated due to the pounding it got from overloaded trucks laden with coal.
The traffic authorities have said inspectors found 80 percent of trucks were overloaded.
Cui Zhongfu, secretary-general of the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, told China Daily that trucks with heavy loads are more likely to both damage the road surface and cause accidents.
However, he said logistics enterprises pile up their loads for several reasons.
"Highway and bridge tolls in China are too high for transportation companies," he said. "Sometimes, they can account for as much as 20 percent of the total expense."
Therefore, many companies carry too much freight to try to make trips more profitable and compete with rivals.
Cui said the new regulation shows the authorities are tying to regulate the market. However, he questioned whether the rules will be followed up with strict enforcement and said they were open to abuse from local authorities who could use them to raise revenue from truckers.
"Past experience suggests that many revenue-raising activities exists in the process of enforcement," he said.
If that happens, he said, truckers may end up overloading their trucks even more to help pay the new expense.