Strap In and Haul Out

The federal government has spent billions of dollars over the past decade preaching the importance of a common sense task, required by law, for all drivers, in every type of vehicle, in all 50 states. All this money has been spent to reinforce the idea drivers should buckle their seat belts before traveling on the roadway. Local, state and federal government have spent countless hours enforcing occupant protection enforcement and education. One would think this task would happen naturally as a method of self-preservation, yet there are many who refuse to comply with this simple, statutory requirement, including truck drivers.

Over the years, much progress has been made encouraging motorists to comply with seat belt laws. The daytime seat belt usage rate has risen from 70.7% in 2000 to 90.1% in 2016, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) resources. These numbers represent a significant increase in compliance over a 16-year period.

The numbers seem encouraging on face value, but the same statistics scream 1 out of 10 people traveling in vehicles are not securing their seat belts. These statistics only represent those traveling in passenger vehicles.

When one begins to look at the compliance rate of the trucking demographic likely reading this blog, the rate quickly drops from 90.1% to 84.9%. In other terms, there is a 5% drop off in seat belt compliance from passenger vehicles to commercial vehicles traveling on US roadways. What this statistic says is professionals who operate heavy vehicles are significantly less likely to buckle up to save their lives and those in smaller, more maneuverable vehicles.

As further proof of the lack of compliance, driver safety belt violations were the fifth most common violation cited by officers conducting federal safety regulation inspections in 2016. Almost 60,000 violations were documented by officers. While this number itself is extremely high, it still doesn’t even include those cited by other law enforcement officers not conducting federal inspections.

Those in law enforcement have heard every excuse in the book from violators of safety belt laws. Some of those excuses are more reasonable than others, but almost none are a statutory exemption to safety belt requirements.

Drivers of commercial vehicles offer some of the more compelling arguments law enforcement will hear. Many have argued the belt is uncomfortable to wear for long periods while traveling over bumpy roads. Others have contended since their vehicle is bigger, they are less likely to be injured in a crash.

The fact remains that even commercial vehicles are bigger than others on the road, unrestrained drivers can still be seriously injured in a crash. Further, commercial vehicles are more likely to be involved in a roll-over situation than a passenger vehicle. In these cases, the size of the vehicle is not going to protect the driver from being injured, as the larger passenger compartment and its contents will serve as a potential centrifuge of injury or death.

If the risk of injury or death isn’t enough to encourage commercial vehicle operators to buckle up, perhaps the possibility of law enforcement intervention will serve as a deterrent. While it has been reported that only about 2% of law enforcement officers are likely to stop commercial vehicles, the chance of being stopped by the police increases exponentially when one chooses to disobey a law to which every patrol officer.

Many officers are not trained in the finer aspects of commercial vehicle enforcement, which many commercial vehicle operators rightfully worry about. Violations of size, weight, CDL or federal regulations are not often possessed in the average patrol officer’s repertoire. Seat belt violations, however, are something that every officer knows is illegal. Why draw attention police attention over such a futile disregard of the law?

Law enforcement nationwide has gone “all in” on the campaign to encourage motorists to “Click it or Ticket” and they will not back down from the crusade until there are zero fatalities. It takes everyone working together to make the roadways a safer place as the holidays approach. Secure safety belts and drive safely on the roads.

From all of us at the ITEA, have a happy and safe holiday season and remember to buckle up!

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Slow Down, Move Over

On June 28, 2017 Illinois State Police Officer Ryan Albin was killed in a traffic crash involving a semi-truck. This is the third traffic crash to take an Illinois State Trooper’s life in 5 years, and all three have involved a commercial vehicle. These deaths are not only a loss to the trooper’s family and the law enforcement community, but also a loss to the State of Illinois. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association sends it deepest condolences to the families of these troopers. To help prevent these deaths and lower the increasing number of traffic fatalities statewide, Illinois has expanded Scott’s Law beginning in 2017.

Chicago Fire Lieutenant Scott Gillen was killed in the year 2000 while assisting at a traffic crash on the Dan Ryan Expressway. As a result, Illinois passed Scott’s law, or the “move over” law. The law requires the following:

625 ILCS 5.0/11-907(c) upon approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, when the authorized emergency vehicle is giving a signal by displaying alternately flashing red, red and white, blue, or red and blue lights or amber or yellow warning lights, a person who drives an approaching vehicle shall;

(1)   proceeding with due caution, yield the right-of-way by making a lane change into a lane not adjacent to that of the authorized emergency vehicle, if possible with due regard to safety and traffic conditions, if on a highway having at least 4 lanes with not less than 2 lanes proceeding in the same direction as the approaching vehicle; or

(2)   proceeding with due caution, reduce the speed of the vehicle, maintaining a safe speed for road conditions, if changing lanes would be impossible or unsafe.

When a driver sees a police vehicle with its emergency lights on, pulled over on the side of the road, every effort should be made to create a wide berth for the safety of the officer and the person he is dealing with. Police officers make every attempt to stop a vehicle in place safest for all parties, but people are unpredictable and sometimes they stop in dangerous places. This creates a hazard for not only the motorist, but the officer and those travelling on the road attempting to pass.

Punishments for not giving space or slowing down are harsh, including the possibility of a 2-year driver’s license suspension if someone is injured. The goal is to keep officers safe as they work at roadside. In 2017 the law was expanded to include more than just emergency responders.

In Illinois, any vehicle with hazard lights flashing stopped on the side of the road is covered under Scott’s law. This means when you see a vehicle broken down on the side of the road, you must slow down and change lanes, if possible. Be aware people may be walking or standing on the roadway.

Construction zones are another spot where drivers must have more than normal situational awareness. Trooper Albin’s crash occurred as he and a box truck entered a construction zone and slowed for traffic. Construction zones present hazards for the workers as well as the motorists passing through them. Between years 2000-2008, 25% of work zone fatalities involved large trucks, compared to 12% of all highway fatalities.

As a large truck enters a construction zone, the driver should be concentrating on the road ahead and the changes in speed limits or traffic patterns. Often trucks are told to stay in the right lane in a construction zone, and that’s for good reason. They should be travelling slower and prepared for sudden stops. This doesn’t mean cars may continue driving through a construction zone at full throttle. Every motorist should use caution through a construction zone.

The trucking industry and law enforcement can work to reduce traffic fatalities on our roads. By providing room for stopped vehicles, you will give a police officer room to work. Being conscious of construction zones and the reduced speeds sets a tone for other motorists to change their unsafe behaviors.

Remember, that police officer pulled over on the side of the road is not just someone writing a ticket. He or she is a husband, a wife, a father, a mother, a son, or daughter. They want to go home to their family and they are asking everyone to be more aware. Slow down and move over.

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The Fatal Five

The commercial transportation industry has been struggling for over a decade to backfill the exodus of qualified drivers from its ranks.  A study commissioned by The American Truck Association reported in 2005 a driver shortage of around 20,000.  A great-recession and 11 years later, the number has nearly doubled to 38,000.  Many factors compound to create a complex national problem.  Could you be at risk of joining those numbers and not even know it?

Throughout the great-recession there was no doubt owner-operators felt the squeeze and may have exited the industry all together, never to return.  Once gainful employment was found in another industry, it was hard to break back into what seemed like a financially treacherous trucking industry.

Baby boomers are also exiting the industry to the detriment of the profession.  An entire generation of skilled workers who spent decades with their noses to the grindstone is passing the torch to a generation who expects shorter hours, higher pay and employers who cater to an their needs.

Regardless of the generational divide, long hours and time away from home, trucking wears on driver’s ability to maintain longevity.  Commercial driving is still thankfully one of the remaining industries which can provide a decent wage to a dedicated and skilled driver.

The climate within the commercial transportation industry has undoubtedly changed as well.  Companies must be able to sufficiently navigate the regulation and red-tape associated with local, state and federal regulations in order to ensure compliance.

The quickest way for drivers to get bounced from the industry is failure to comply with the most critical regulations effecting a commercial driver: safe driving.

Commercial motor vehicle drivers are held to a higher standard when it comes to the “Fatal 5 Violations”.  One or multiple of these violations have been found to be present in nearly every serious injury and fatal traffic crash.  The troubling fact is that every one of these violations are completely preventable.

Driving Under the Influence
This is a no-brainer.  Do not pass go.  Do not collect $200… in fact, pay a few thousand dollars, then find yourself disqualified.
Since the advent of the ‘hardship license’ which gives a DUI suspended driver a license to operate for work related purposes, there’s a common misunderstanding how the licenses can be used.  Simply put, the ‘hardship license’ cannot be issued to operate a commercial motor vehicle which requires a CDL to operate.

Improper lane use
Improper lane usage by commercial vehicles is often a complaint of the motoring public.  Most officers understand keeping an 8-foot 6-inch wide truck within a 10-12 foot wide lane can be difficult at times, but meandering too far from your lane or unsafely passing is inexcusable unless in an emergency situation.

Following too closely
This is risky business.  Undoubtedly, those pesky four-wheelers will pull out in front of a commercial vehicle. If given even the smallest gap, and factoring in brake lag on air braking systems and reduced stopping ability, following too closely is asking for trouble.

Speed
Speed kills. Enough said.  Seen those billboards lately?  Commercial motor vehicle drivers convicted of two speeding violations within a three-year period have their CDL disqualified and justifiably so.  Speeding increases stopping distance and potential damage in a crash, because the faster one drives the further he is going to travel during the same time.

Cell phone use
Mobile phones have been unlawful at both the state and federal level for years.  Unless being used hands free, drivers are committing a serious traffic violation when they choose to text or talk on a hand-held phone while driving.  Some debate the merits of these laws, but study after study shows distracted drivers are more prone to traffic crashes.

The trucking industry suffers enough from the exodus of skilled retiring drivers, regulation compliance and retention of Gen-Y drivers. Don’t allow your commercial driver’s license to be the next preventable factor in the growing shortage of experienced drivers.

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Winter Rules Review

Sometimes the list of things to love about Illinois is so long people forget to include one of its biggest assets: winter. Well, maybe that is one of the reasons people flee Illinois, but truth be told, winter is a huge part of the state economy. Snow removal, automotive repair and summer roadwork are jobs provided for as a result of winter. As the cold begins to move in, it’s time to review truck laws as they apply to snow!

Rumor in Illinois meteorology is the winter of 2015-2016 is going to mild. This is because of the natural phenomenon called “El Nino”. Here’s what everyone already knows – winter in Illinois will always be cold. There will be snow. It will probably be miserable. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst!

Within the scope of trucking, there is a lot of variation based on vehicle configurations, purpose and commodity. This of course means there are unique winter rules which may apply to some trucks, but not all. Several of these have been discussed at length in previous articles, and links are provided in those paragraphs.

Flashing Lights – Click HERE
The ITEA would implore police officers to use good discretion before citing snow plow trucks for this offense. The ITEA would also implore snow plow drivers to be conscientious about this law so you do not get a ticket! Just because you have a snowplow does not mean you are licensed to run around on public highways with your flashing yellow lights on. You are more than welcome to run those lights while plowing private property parking lots as you may very well be required to under contract. However, when you are out on the roadway, the lights must go off, unless…

Plow Blades Greater than 102” – Click HERE
If you have a plow blade which is 102” (8’6”) or less, that is legal width. You cannot have a flashing light. However, if your plow blade is greater than 102”, you are REQUIRED to have a flashing yellow or amber light(s) visible for 500’ in all directions!

Remember, if your plow blade is greater than 102” you are exceeding legal width. The Illinois Vehicle Code provides an exception up to 144” (12’) in width, but you must meet the flashing light requirement, and you must have an 18” square flag on the driver’s side corner of the blade.

Axle & Gross Weights – Click HERE
Vehicles involved in snow & ice removal are not required to conform to gross, axle or bridge formula weight laws of Chapter 15. The question which begs answering is what qualifies as snow & ice removal? It’s pretty safe to say if the truck has a plow blade, spreader and/or a load of salt, it is safe to exceed to exceeds these weight limits. If the truck is just hauling salt from point A to point B, probably not.

Here are two weight laws not exempted. 1) As a truck owner, even if your entire gross weight (vehicle and load) are lawfully exceeding the Chapter 15 weight laws, you still must pay enough tax for registration to cover the gross weight. No breaks there. 2) If your driver is lawfully exceeding the same Chapter 15 weights, he still may not exceed the posted weights on a ton load or legal weight structure. Those are absolutes with no exceptions.

Inclement Weather – Click HERE
Obviously many trucks are built to operate in the worst of conditions. Trucks which may not operate in inclement weather or those operating on a special oversize/overweight permit. As with many things, there is no clear or objective standard as to what is considered “inclement weather”. Unfortunately, this will be subject to the opinion of the police officer and the courts. However, even if you are cited for this, it does not void the permit and knock you back to legal weight and size. It is only a violation of permit citation.

Tire Chains
A common misbelief is tire chains are illegal in Illinois. This is completely false. Reasonable size tire chains are legal on any vehicle (car or truck). The reality it is very rare to see vehicles in Illinois with tire chains. Tire chains are completely lawful as defined in the final paragraph of 625 ILCS 5/12-401:

“Nothing in this Section shall be deemed to prohibit the use of tire chains of reasonable proportion upon any vehicle when required for safety because of snow, ice or other conditions tending to cause a vehicle to skid.”

Be careful out there this winter!

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Electrically Surging Brakes

If you were more than an infant in 1980s or earlier, the year 2000 seemed like an age away. The average American thought people would be traveling in flying cars and have robot maids. Humans have advanced technologically since then, but driverless cars are still a good decade or two away. What will never change, however, is the need for brakes on vehicles. Trailers need brakes sometimes, and the article this week will look at what the law says about them.

When an average truck officer or trucking industry professional looks at a 53’semi-trailer, no one stops and wonders if the trailer needs brakes. Of course it does. It’s big. It’s heavy. Friction will be required to stop it.

The confusion about when brakes are required occurs with trailers of the smaller variety. Big rig drivers ought not to stop reading at this point, and truck cops who only go after “the big fish” should not either. Why? Because it’s the small trailer the average Joe uses to haul a boat to the lake, an ATV to the trail, or a little dumper with yard waste.

However, it’s these little trailers and their braking requirements which lands driver’s in trouble with the police. Whether enforcement is right or wrong, it’s better to operate with the authoritative knowledge than that of your buddy at the bar.

What the Law Says
In 625 ILCS 5/12-301(a)(4), the statute reads all trailers (except boat trailers), with a gross weight over 3,000 pounds (which means 3,001 pounds or more) must have brakes which can be controlled by the driver. This is accomplished by using the independent trailer brake control within the truck.

Boat trailers are discussed in paragraph 4.1. It is almost identical to paragraph 4, except the law does not require the boat trailer brakes to be controlled by the driver. This is why boat trailers typically have “surge brakes”. When the driver engages the service brakes on the power unit and the vehicle decelerates, the trailer “surges” forward, using that energy to activate the brakes.

The law also requires any trailer (boat or non-boat) with a gross weight over 5,000 pounds (which means 5,001 pounds or more) to have an emergency breakaway system in the event the two vehicles become uncoupled. This is normally accomplished with an aircraft cable, attached to the power unit (not the hitch or the safety chains) which ties into the braking system of the trailer.

In the unfortunate instance the two vehicles separate, the aircraft cable either pulls a pin to release the electric battery power to set the brakes on dry trailers, or pulls a lever forward which sets the surge brakes on boat trailers. Hopefully, the trailer will stop soon and without disaster.

What the Law Does Not Say
Notice the law does not say “gross vehicle weight rating” (GVWR) or registered weight. What the trailer manufacturer rates as the maximum loaded weight of the vehicle, or what the Secretary of State assigns as the maximum registered weight, means jack squat when it comes to brake requirements. All that matters is how much the vehicle, with load, weighs on the scale.

The law does not give police officers the authority to stop vehicles for the purpose of inspecting brakes (except for Illinois State Police troopers). All other police officers must first lawfully stop the vehicle. The law also does not give the police officer the authority to lawfully stop a vehicle and then begin a fishing expedition, or unconstitutional search, for brake violations. This is fruit of the poisonous tree.

If a police officer wishes to enforce the laws governing brakes in the Illinois Vehicle Code, he must follow an appropriate investigative path:
•   He can ask the driver if he would be willing to independently engage the trailer brakes.
•   He can ask the driver to open the battery compartment on the trailer to see if there is a battery.
•   He can ask the driver if he can weigh the trailer to see if it is even heavy enough to meet certain brake requirements.

A driver can at any time tell the officer “no” to the questions above and the investigation stops. An officer cannot use “reason to believe” a trailer’s weight is exceeding braking requirements. That burden of proof is reserved for overweight violations only.

Just because a police officer believes a trailer weighs in excess of 3,000 pounds does not mean he can order it to the scale. Similarly, just because an officer believes a vehicle weighs in excess of 5,000 pounds does he have the right to declare the trailer must have an emergency breakaway system.  The driver of a truck is entitled to the same civil liberties as the driver of a car, and police officers do not make a practice of stopping cars to check brakes.

Safety is paramount, but a mere suspicion of safety violations does not justify poor enforcement methodologies.

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Illinois Rail Safety Week 2014

There’s a reason every red-blooded American boy wants to be a train conductor or a truck driver: big powerful machines made of iron and steel are cool. Many kids grow out of this stage, the rest either become truck cops, train conductors or truck drivers. It’s no secret the trucking and rail industry do not always see eye-to-eye, but there are times when both industries need to come together for the greater good. One such instance is Illinois Rail Safety Week 2014. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is proudly co-sponsoring this event because trucks play a vital role in rail safety. The article this week will explain why.

September 14th-20th, 2014 marks the inaugural year for Illinois Rail Safety Week. The driving force behind the event is the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee, on which several ITEA board members serve as well.

Rail safety may seem rather intuitive, but sadly the numbers prove different. Every year, lives are lost, including those of truckers, for failure to follow simple rules at rail crossings. 

Time is money. The boss wants it done yesterday. The phone is ringing. That train is moving slow. I got plenty of time. Bam. Tragedy…again.

State Law vs Federal Law
There are truck specific laws at both the state and federal level. Those truckers who operate with CDLs need to be concerned with both! While some laws are similar at both levels, others are specific to their own code. Some state law violations may not be in the federal law, but CDL status could be affected anyhow. 

Heavy Equipment
State law requires that any vehicle moving heavy equipment have proper clearance before crossing the railroad tracks. Because much heavy equipment is transported on lowboy trailers, a nine-inch minimum is required before crossing the rails. What is interesting is the definition of “heavy equipment”.

The statute gives several examples: crawler-type tractor, power shovel, derrick or roller. However, it also gives a catchall. If the equipment being operated or moved is designed to travel less than 10mph, the driver must stop the truck between 15 and 50 feet of the crossing to make sure it is clear. 

While most minds will immediately think this statute applies exclusively to oversize/overweight permit loads, it does not say that. What about legal weight skid steers, pavers or excavators? Many of these machines do not exceed 10mph and are moved over trucks.

Permit Loads
Speaking of permit loads, the Illinois Department of Transportation has something to say about this topic in the 2012 Permit Manual. If you are operating on a valid IDOT permit on an IDOT road, you assume all liability if a problem arises because you did not stop and inspect the rail crossing prior to crossing. The permit may very well route you over the tracks, but you are still responsible. A violation of permit citation could be issued.

Passenger Vehicles
Federal law requires all “buses” to stop and look prior to crossing. The Illinois state law is more restrictive. It not only requires all buses, but any second-division vehicle, carrying passengers for-hire, to stop. This includes vehicles designed to carry ten or more people like some stretch limousines, party buses and 15-passenger vans in ride-sharing agreements.

Hazardous Materials
in Part 392.10, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations delineate a host of hazardous materials which would require the driver to stop the vehicle at a rail crossing. The Illinois state law defers to this list as well. The key here is enforcement scope.

The truck actually has to being carrying the material, not just displaying placards. While a local police officer can just as easily look at a placard and compare it to the list, the proof of the violation rests with the presence of the material. Illinois State Police troopers can inspect a commercial vehicle without cause, but local Illinois officers are limited by procedural case law. Just crossing the tracks without stopping, while displaying placards, is not enough for a search.

Shifting Gears
Even with automatic transmissions rapidly gaining popularity in commercial vehicles, the standard transmission is still king. If a truck is of the type which is required to stop at railroad crossings, the driver may not shift gears once the approach to the tracks and has begun. He also cannot shift until the entire vehicle has cleared the tracks. This is for good reason. Even the best drivers sometimes miss gears when shifting. If the trucks stalls on the tracks, bad things could happen.

Illinois needs goods shipped by rail and highway transport, and we need it delivered in one piece by alert drivers. Illinois Rail Safety Week 
2014 is all about both industries and law enforcement working together for safety. 

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Getting Tarped

Tell the truth…you know you love it when a rock falls off a truck and cracks your windshield. You know what else you love? When sand blows of the pile inside a truck and you can feel it scratching against the clear coat. If you indeed love these things, you must either be nuts or drive a beater car you really don’t care about. There’s a common myth in Illinois truck enforcement circles that “all loads of aggregate must be tarped”. Guess what? Not true.

Pick and industry and there is always a hot topic. In trucking world, fatigued driving and highway funding are all the rage these days. Dial the clock back a couple years and load securement was the talk of the town.

Even if this article is narrowly focusing on tarps and aggregates, it’s in the family of load securement. Because load securement is the big picture, a foundational background needs to be laid.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations speak in volumes about load securement. Pick a commodity like steel coils, heavy machinery or roof trusses and there are specific rules about how that load is too be secured. After that, the securement devices themselves have a set of regulations. Chains, load straps and binders have ratings and integrity specifications.

It’s been said before and now it will be said again. Local truck enforcement officers in Illinois should have a working knowledge of the FMCSR and be able to spot a critical safety violation for a lawfully stopped truck.

This does not mean the officer has the right to stop a truck for an FMCSR violation. This does not mean the officer has the right to inspect the truck for other FMCSR violations. This does not mean the officer can write any sort of citation for the FMCSR or shoehorn it into the unsafe vehicle statue of the Illinois Vehicle Code. This does not mean the officer has the authority to play pretend “out of service”. These are exclusive enforcement tasks of the Illinois State Police.

Whereas the FMCSR has scores of detailed regulations regarding load securement, Illinois has three statutes. Yeah that’s right…three and they are not very commodity or device specific.

The first is 625 ILCS 5/15-106 that says any protruding members of the load must be secured.

The second is 625 ILCS 5/15-109 that says loads cannot be spilled on the highway or come loose and be a hazard to other motorists. There is also a subsection about steel coil securement, but it defers to the FMCSR, so no local enforcement.

The third, and case in point, is 625 ILCS 5/15-109.1. This statute talks about when tarps are required:

“(a) No person shall operate or cause to be operated, on a highway, any second division vehicle loaded with dirt, aggregate, garbage, refuse, or other similar material, when any portion of the load is falling, sifting, blowing, dropping or in any way escaping from the vehicle.”

Notice the law speaks about second division vehicles, which could be trucks or trailers. The law also speaks directly to aggregates. The term aggregate is defined in subsection (d):

“(d) For the purpose of this Section “aggregate” shall include all ores, minerals, sand, gravel, shale, coal, clay, limestone or any other ore or mineral which may be mined.”

The most important words are the verbs. Falling. Sifting. Blowing. Dropping. Escaping. In other words, the load has to be leaving the truck in order for there to be a violation. That’s it plain and simple. Any police officer sitting on the side of the road waiting for a load of untarped aggregate to pass by has not met his burden to write a citation.

If the officer gets behind the vehicle, and the stones are falling out of the tailgate, ticket. If the sand is blowing off the top of the pile, ticket. Otherwise, there is not a load securement violation. Of course officers may exercise discretion in issuing citations. Interestingly, much like overweight vehicles, the statute actually requires the load to be secure before moving on.

The worst rationalization is a load must be tarped in the event the truck rolls over. Check out the picture used for this post. Tarps don’t hold back 20 tons of aggregates.

Myth busted.

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The Need for Speed

In the 1983 TV show The A-Team, actor George Peppard was famous for saying “I love it when a plan comes together!” Whether it’s gears meshing on a transmission, the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle laid in place or a surprise birthday party that truly surprises, when it all blends nicely, people are happy. The problem is when things don’t come together nicely, bad things happen. Sitting on the desk of Governor Quinn is Senate Bill 930, which was written to make sure truck and automobile traffic speeds are more closely sync’d. Read on to understand why this is important.

First, the ITEA is not endorsing higher speeds for trucks or unsafe truck driving. Common sense will tell you this: the heavier the vehicle is, more damage will be inflicted when they crash. The faster the heavier vehicle is, the more damage will be inflicted when they crash. The reality is when trucks crash, cars (and their occupants) lose. 

What this bill attempts to do is solve the opposite problem. When Governor Quinn signed into law Public Act 98-0511, he raised the maximum speed for cars to 70mph on interstate highways outside Cook and the collar counties. There was a glaring omission from the law though…trucks were still limited to 55mph.

Are trucks more safely operated at 55mph than 70mph? For sure, but the same can be said for cars. The issue at stake here is not the maximum speed, but the speed differential. Before the change, cars were limited to 65mph, a 10mph differential from trucks.  The proponents of this bill believe that a 15mph differential presents too great an opportunity for car versus truck crashes. 

If the Governor signs this bill, the speed differential will be reinstated to a 10mph difference by raising the maximum truck speed on interstates to 60mph from 55mph. Interestingly, as speed synchronization is being fought legislatively at the state level in Illinois, a similar war has been brewing for years at the federal level.

The issue nationwide is whether or not to mandate speed limiters, or governors, on all trucks. These electronic devices are built into the computer of the vehicle and restrict fuel intake in order to limit vehicle speed. Many carriers voluntarily use speed limiters already, many do not. The maximum velocity of trucks with speed limiters is up to management of the individual companies or owners.

The argument against speed limiters is the same as the argument for lesser speed differentials in Illinois…the closer all vehicles are in speed, the safer they are. 

There is no perfect solution and crashes are inevitable regardless of speed differentials, but there are some interesting questions posed by a potential nationwide mandate of speed limiters. It’s easy to argue the benefits of a speed limiters. Here are some arguments against speed limiters:

Hours of Service
In a day when fatigued truck driving is all the enforcement rage, many over-the-road drivers are paid per mile. The incentive to speed is great. Speed limiters do not correspond to speed limits though. Drivers may choose make up lost time (and money) by speeding in reduced speed areas like construction and school zones, or on local streets.

Uniformity
The going rate for a potential speed limiter mandate is 65mph. Many states, like Illinois, now have 70mph interstate speeds. Some are at 75mph. A few are at 80mph. Texas State Highway 130 is now at 85mph! Speed limiters are creating a greater speed differential in different areas of the country.

Congestion
As interstate speed limits continue to increase, speed governed trucks may impede traffic. Have you ever been driving your car on a four-lane highway waiting for one semi-truck to pass another? There will always be some variance in governors, so one truck going 65mph is not exactly the same as another going 65mph. Imagine the time it will take for one truck to pass another in that situation if the passing driver cannot temporarily increase speed to pass, even if it is within the law.

The jury is still out on the benefit of speed limiters, but the studies have adequately shown that speed differentials between cars and trucks are hazardous. In the end, the goal should be safe trucks and safe drivers. Maybe more incentives to reward safe truck drivers is the answer. 

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On the Side of Safety

On November 26th, law enforcement officers statewide will remember the first anniversary of the tragic death of Illinois State Trooper Kyle Deatherage.  Unfortunately, in the time since then, Illinois has lost two more police officers on the highways after being struck by vehicles.  Trooper James Sauter was struck on I-294 on March 28th, 2013 and Officer Casey Kohlmeier of the Pontiac Police Department was struck on October 30th.  It’s no secret the highway is a dangerous place, but what other safety considerations should a police officer have in mind when stopping trucks?

Over the last ten years, an average 59.5 police officers per year were killed on the roadways of this nation in either a vehicle crash or after being struck by a vehicle.  In the same ten years, an average 56.4 officers per year were killed after being shot.  Over 57,000 officers were assaulted.  Roadside is a dangerous place everywhere.  Crashes which kill anyone are tragic enough, but personal encounters between police officers and trucker have some unique hazards as well.

Officer safety is burned into the minds of police officers starting on Day 1 in the police academy.  Much time is spent on person to person contact, traffic stops, and high risk encounters.  The tactics of stopping cars is basic to the police officer function, but good officer safety when stopping trucks receives little or no training.

It’s not uncommon for police officers to climb up on the side of the truck to speak with the driver.  The question is whether or not this is the best idea. Experienced truck officers know that truckers are usually less belligerent and more compliant than car drivers.  This does not mean truck officers should become complacent and let their guard down.

First, tactically speaking, the truck driver has the advantage.  He has the higher ground.  To stand directly in front of a closed door, looking up to a driver, is an invitation for disaster.  Behind that door could be a shotgun, a knife or one of many other legitimate tools a driver keeps near the door for repairs.  It is not uncommon for police officers to open a truck door and see mallets, pliers, crowbars, screwdrivers and a host of other potential weapons.

Second, the door itself could be used as a weapon.  As a police climbs up the side of a truck, he is naturally off balance.  Footing is not as sure as being on the ground.  The truck driver could use his entire body weight to force the door open and knock the officer off the truck and into traffic.  This is similar to a police officer using a ballistic shield for crowd control.

Third, police officers are trained to keep their hands free.  It’s hard to fight or fend someone off if you have a notebook, pen or paperwork in your hand.  One hand needs to be free to protect/deploy the service weapon or another defense tool.  If a police officer has one hand engaged on the hand-hold of the truck, and other grasping registration, permits or a driver’s license, what hands are left to mount a defense with?

Aside from the tactical dangers of a trucker bent on injuring or killing a police officer, the non-felonious environmental hazards of trucks can be just as problematic.  Broken or sharp steps.  Loose hand-holds.  Hot exhaust pipes.  Leaking or spraying hydraulic/air lines.  Each of these has the potential to severely injure a police officer.

Maybe it is time truck enforcement officers start rethinking the practice of climbing up on the side of trucks.  There will always be times when a police officer must do, like checking securement devices or how a trailer is loaded.

Maybe the officer should stop short of the where the door will swing.  Maybe the police officer should ask the driver to open the door so he can have a clear view inside.  Any truck officer worth his salt should be checking the VIN and GVWR data anyhow, and that is almost always requires the door to be open to find the information.

There’s never a perfect method for safely engaging truck drivers on traffic stops, but every contact purposefully executed to survive, will significantly decrease the likelihood of injury or death.

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Braking Bad

Quick survey – raise your virtual hand if you believe brakes are important for all vehicles, particularly for trucks and trailers. Many people falsely believe that the size of a bullet determines its “stopping power”. Large bullets don’t stop anybody, they just make bigger holes. Brakes stop things, and the bigger the brake, the greater the stopping power. The article this week focuses on enforcement of brake violations within the scope of the Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC) by local Illinois police officers.

During Brake Safety Week in September 2012, CVSA inspectors nationwide checked 21,255 vehicles and found 15.3% had brake problems. That’s a lot of trucks with stopping issues. The key point is that CVSA inspectors conducted these inspections, not non-CVSA truck enforcement officers. While most states utilize their state police as the primary CVSA enforcement group, some states allow local law enforcement to become CVSA certified. Illinois does not. Local Illinois police officers are bound by the limits of the IVC.

Should every truck enforcement officer worth his salt have a working knowledge of braking systems on trucks and trailers? Absolutely. The ability to have a keen eye and spot a defect or other problem on the braking system of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) may very well save a life someday.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) has dozens of pages about brake requirements for CMVs. The IVC only has one. This disparity does not give local police the authority to shoehorn the FMCSR brake requirements into the IVC. A good cause does give local police the authority to add to the law…only the legislature may do that. The slippery slope of interpreting IVC brake requirements with the FMSCR isn’t really all that slippery. The fact is the ice has melted and the officer has already plummeted into the abyss of improper enforcement.

So what can local police officers actually enforce in the realm of brakes according to the IVC? It’s pretty limited. The manner in which a local police officer garners the right to check brake performance according to the IVC, and the method of doing so, exceed the word count quota for this article. But…the first fifteen truck officers who sign up for the newly minted ITEA, 40-hour Advanced Truck Enforcement Officer class will have the opportunity to discuss and see this demonstrated by a CVSA inspector of the Illinois State Police. A whole day will be dedicated to IVC equipment violations instead of a whole week dedicated to instructing police officers on how to exceed their authority (not the ITEA).

Here’s the rub. There is one subsection of the IVC about brakes which appears to be vague on its face. Therefore, according to a very small minority of law enforcement instructors (not the ITEA), this gives local police the authority to squeeze the FMCSR into the IVC. Read the below text from 625 ILCS 5/12-301(b)(5) carefully:

“All brakes shall be maintained in good working order and shall be so adjusted as to operate as equally as practicable with respect to the wheels on opposite sides of the vehicle.”

The first phrase says “good working order”. This becomes license for some (not the ITEA) who believe that what the IVC lacks in clarification should be interpreted by the FMCSR. The second phrase “shall be so adjusted” is wrongly taught (not by the ITEA) to mean that local police officers can physically inspect the brake performance.

These faulty interpretations, false justifications and poor rationalizations attempt to cloak the local police officer as a CVSA inspector under the guise of highway safety. The proper way to interpret this subsection is this: if a vehicle begins the stopping process, and the brakes on one side of the vehicle lock up while the other side keeps rolling, the brakes might be out of adjustment. Done.

The list below reflects items taught (not by the ITEA) to local police officers regarding how to reinterpret this one sub-section. Non-CVSA inspectors have zero business inspecting CMVs for these violations, let alone citing them:

1. Out-of-tolerance slack adjusters
2. Improperly sized brake chambers
3. Worn or broken brake linings and pads
4. Defective or missing return springs
5. Cracked brake drums
6. Leaking air hoses and tubing
7. Malfunctioning low air warning devices
8. Improperly sized air reservoirs

Enforcement of the IVC brake requirements, unfortunately, is almost exclusively reactionary. When a crash occurs, there is a law by which to cite the driver. The times when a police officer may expand enforcement within the parameters of the IVC are quite limited.

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