The Case for ITEA Training

Knowledge is power. When it comes to Illinois truck law, the more one knows and understands, the more power they have. With volumes of Illinois laws and regulations, coupled with even more federal laws and regulations, it is hard to stay on top of all the changes. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association has worked hard to provide the knowledge to more than two-dozen local police officers this past week.

The ITEA hosted a week of basic truck enforcement from September 11th through the 15th. During this 40-hour class, police officers were instructed by many veteran officers who instructed them on enforcement of commercial vehicles. The students spent their mornings in the classroom learning from as many as five different instructors throughout the week.

The afternoon portions of the class were spent receiving a hands-on education at a local state scale. During this block on instruction, even more veteran truck officers come out to help the students learn the basics of weight, dimensions, driver’s licenses and registration enforcement. The volume of trucks which came through the scale during this portion of the class is like no other truck enforcement class in Illinois.

Twenty-four police officers from across the state took the pledge to up truck enforcement accountability. These officers are the next generation of improved community relations between the police and the public they serve. As more officers are trained by the ITEA to ethically conduct truck enforcement, Illinois will benefit greatly.

A hot topic across the nation is police-public relations. The ITEA teaches future truck officers that it is not about creating revenue or making it hard for a business to make a profit, but instead about keeping roads safe. These officers are shown how to fairly interpret the laws and educate drivers on how to better stay safe.

These officers were taught discretion and sound decision making skills. Not every driver of every truck which breaks the law is a lawbreaker. Most are hardworking people who made a mistake. These drivers may have to be written citations for their mistakes, but ITEA truck officers will explain why they received the violation and how to correct it in the future.

During the afternoon hours of the ITEA class, the students watched truck after truck roll over a state scale. Many of the drivers showed they supported our efforts by adding their own enforcement experiences to help these officers understand what they see. Most police officers do not have a background in trucking, so learning on the job is the only (and best way) to learn about industry particulars. The classroom has so many limitations.

The students in the class built a network to continue their learning. They have a new peer group to support their efforts. The ITEA is the graduation resource available to answer questions throughout their career as a truck enforcement officer. This cooperative effort is being undertaken throughout Illinois to ensure trucking companies are being treated uniformly.

The ITEA will always be at the forefront of Illinois truck enforcement for both police and industry. If the police are writing tickets to second division vehicles, the ITEA will be there to help them understand the laws and enforce them properly. The real fun comes next month at the ITEA’s signature Advanced Truck Officer class. Police officers will be in the driver’s seat of a semi-truck to see what life is like when the flashing lights are in their rear-view mirrors!

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Inclement Weather Ahead

There is no denying it, and there is no hiding from it. Old Man Winter has arrived and he plans to stay for a while. While winter can bring headaches, it also brings something special to everyone who lives in Illinois. For adults, winter brings Christmas, New Year’s celebrations, extended vacations from work, hockey and visiting family members from around the globe. Winter brings children a chance to go sledding, to make snowmen and have a break from school. Winter however never fails to deliver the same thing year after year – snow. For trucks, snow has it’s own set of rules.

As snow adds enjoyment to the holiday season, it also must be removed, along with the stalled and crashed cars it victimizes. The two greatest tools to remove snow and cars from the roads are snow plows and tow trucks. Talk of snow plows and tow trucks is nothing new to the ITEA. Browse through the hundreds of articles the ITEA has written and you will find countless articles mentioning the likes of these trucks. The laws pertaining to these trucks are an ever-changing quagmire of rules and regulations that seem to change as often as the seasons. Tow truck law is so complicated the ITEA has two Standards of Practice dedicated to tow truck law which is available to its members.

Snow Plows

When driving down the highway on the eve of a winter snow storm, one may see dozens of snow plows fully loaded and patiently waiting on the side of the road ready to take on the upcoming snow. It’s a powerful sight and motorists would be powerless without them. Open the Illinois Vehicle Code to Chapter 15 which governs weight and size, and the very first page grants special privileges and exemptions to equipment used for snow and ice removal.

The IVC separates these exemptions into two categories: equipment owned and operated by a governmental body, and privately owned and operated equipment. As most would expect, government owned and operated equipment is not bound by the rules of size and weight law. It would be counterproductive if they were. Under certain circumstances, privately owned and operated equipment is also exempt from the rules governing size and weight.  But like all things truck law, these exemptions have restrictions.

In order to receive the exemptions the IVC provides while driving private vehicles a snow plow blade greater than 102″ in width, certain criteria must be met.

•   The vehicle AND the blade must not exceed twelve feet in width.
•   The snow plow blade must have an 18 inch flag on the driver’s side, and the vehicle must be equipped with an amber flashing light that is visible at 500 feet.
•   If the amber light is blocked by the load (road salt), then the vehicle must have an amber light mounted to the rear of the vehicle that is visible at 500 feet.

If these criteria are met, then according to Illinois law (625 ILCS 5/15-101(c)) these vehicles are exempt from the width law up to 12′ wide and are exempt from weight law. See below.

625 ILCS 5/15-101(c) – The provisions of this Chapter governing size, weight, and load do not apply to any snow and ice removal equipment that is no more than 12 feet in width, if the equipment displays flags at least 18 inches square mounted on the driver’s side of the snow plow.

There is one law however these vehicles are not exempt from – the laws of registration.

While Chapter 15 in the IVC allows a snow removal vehicle an exemption to the axle and gross weight limitations, there are no exemptions in Chapter 3 which allow the vehicle to exceed its registered weight. A driver can theoretically load a two-axle pickup truck to 40,000 pounds (although the would would break in half). But if the pickup truck has only paid tax for a B-plate, it is required to weigh 8,000 pounds or less. No tickets will be issued for being overweight on the gross or axles, but tickets can be issued for being overweight on registration. While overweight on registration tickets are not as expensive as overweight on gross, certain overweight on registration tickets can lawfully exceed $3,000.00.

Tow Trucks

Snow plows cannot do their job unless tow trucks do theirs. In most cities and suburbs in Illinois, residential parking bans usually take place when there is two or more inches of snow. If vehicles are left parked in the street, snow plows can’t do their job. When vehicles crash on the slippery highways and become disabled on the roadways and shoulders, snow plows can’t do their job. When these events happen, the mighty fleet of tow trucks come clear the way.

Members of the ITEA most likely have read through the two Standards of Practice published some time ago. The SOPs lay out tow truck laws and the many exemptions and limitations which go with these vehicles. While this article will not cover all of the Illinois tow truck laws, it will make a few points to prepare drivers for the winter at hand. If towing from the scene of a wintry crash:

•   A two-axle tow truck can weigh 24,000 pounds on the rear axle during a tow operation.
•   If the wrecker has two rear axles (drive axles), it can weigh 44,000 pounds on those axles during a tow operation.
•   There is no limitation on gross weight, but too much weight may push the driver into CDL criteria.
•   If the tow truck is carrying a vehicle (not towing behind), there are no extra weight allowances.

The most important thing one can do is join the ITEA and head straight to SOP 14 and SOP 18! Let this article serve as a reminder all Illinois tow-truck flat weight registration plates expire at the end of the month.

There is always time to talk about tow trucks. The ITEA considers tow-truck education such an important topic that the upcoming ITEA Conference in February 2017 has an entire block of training dedicated to tow-truck education for the industry.

Tow-truck laws are complicated and confusing. To add to the confusion there are new laws about tow trucks recently introduced in the FAST Act. The ITEA wrote an article about it last month which can be read HERE. The FAST Act will also be covered in its entirety during the 2017 ITEA Annual Conference.

Until then, prepare for what winter always delivers. Drive safe, arrive safe.

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Give Them an Inch…

Give them and inch and they’ll take a mile, is how the old saying goes. Police officers see this in action every day. The speed limit is 30 mph but the motorists push the limit to see how much faster they can go before they get pulled over. A car pulls up to the white stripe at an intersection, how far over the line until the officer decides the motorist disobeyed the stop sign? Same goes for oversize/overweight permit moves, which are set with very little margin of error. So what are the common errors made by the trucking industry and how many inches do officers give for those mistakes? Read on to find out!

Axle Spacings

With the implementation of automated permits by the Illinois Department of Transportation, it’s more important than ever the trucking industry know the correct axle spacings when requesting a permit. IDOT regulations say the axle minimum axle spacing must be correct or the permit is deemed fraudulent, and the officer can knock the weights back to 80,000 pounds.

What’s important to remember is the greater the axle spacing, the less weight is compressed in one area. In other words, exceeding the minimum axle spacings would not constitute a fraudulent permit. Officers should also be aware the tool they use for measuring axle spacings will have a margin of error. In this instance, the officer should give the trucking industry the inch.

Divisibility

IDOT regulations, the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Federal Motor Carrier Regulations explain what is considered a non-divisible load. Compromising the intended use of the load, destroying the value of the load, or taking more than eight hours to dismantle would render a load non-divisible. As such, many companies who regularly participate in permit moves know what can and can’t be transported on the trailer.

IDOT clearly states that tie downs, brooms, shovels, rigging and other dunnage can be carried on the trailer. In other words, minor things that help the workers get the equipment on and off the trailer, and secure it are perfectly legal to have on the trailer. Once again, the officer can give the inch to the trucking industry.

Number of Axles on the Ground

When applying for a permit, the company must state how many axles will be on the ground. So when the huge permit load drives by with five axles on the ground and the permit requires six, one would think this voids the permit. According to IDOT’s permit manual, not enough axles on the ground is a violation punishable by a regular traffic citation for a “Violation of Permit”, not an overweight ticket. When there is not enough axles on the ground, the officer should give the inch.

Off the Assigned Permit Route

The police officer hears it all the time, “I can leave my permitted route for 1-mile for the purposes of loading, unloading, food, fuel rest, or repairs”. Well, not exactly. IDOT regulations state a permitted load can go from one state highway to another state highway for food, fuel, rest, repairs, to return to permitted route after mistakenly getting off route or to comply with regulatory signs to weigh. Often times, the trucking industry believes they can utilize non-state roads for these reasons. They cannot. So in the instance a permitted moves turns onto a local road, the officer gets the inch.

Police officers have great discretion in deciding what the letter of the law is. In some instances, the officer should use their best judgement in deciding when a mistake is a clear violation of the law, or simply a subjective view. Sometimes the trucking company deserves the mile, but sometimes they don’t even get the inch.

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Pilot Cars

The average person who sees an oversize/overweight vehicle thinks one thing: big. It’s huge. It’s a massive truck. They only say this because their point of reference is a world full of small cars and SUVs. The truth is many oversize loads really aren’t all that big in the world of oversize loads. The presence of a pilot car is a sure sign to the lay motorist the load ahead is a big one. As in all things trucking, even pilot cars are controversial and their necessity is a point of contention state by state.

The first point of controversy is pilot cars go by two names. The first? Pilot cars, duh. The second name these vehicles are referred to are “escorts”. The Illinois Department of Transportation, in their OPER 993 form, refer to them as escorts. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in an effort to harmonize all things oversize/overweight, the details matter. For this article, they will be referred to as pilot cars so as not to be confused with escorts of a different trade.

The second point of controversy in Illinois is the lack of statutory mandates regarding pilot cars. The Illinois Vehicle Code requires pilot cars for certain oversize movements of implements of husbandry and buildings for agricultural/livestock raising operations. The IVC also gives IDOT the authority to create rules for pilot cars and sets fees for when the Illinois State Police serve in this capacity.

A common misconception among motorists (and sometimes police officers) is pilot cars are required for ALL oversize loads. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What the IVC does not mandate is pilot cars for local roads. Each township, municipality and county has the authority to set their own rules regarding the use of civilian pilot cars or local police officers.

The third point regarding pilot cars in Illinois is the lenient standards of IDOT. This is not a bad thing, as for once Illinois is not the most restrictive state in the midwest.  IDOT requires a progressive number of civilian pilot cars based on increasing dimensions of the load.

Illinois State Police troopers are not required until the load is greater than 18’ high, 18’ wide or 200’ long. No pilot cars are needed for legal weight, oversize-only loads, nor are pilot cars needed for overweight-only loads.

Compare this to the State of Missouri. A state trooper is required in the front of the move and a civilian pilot car is required at the read for overweight loads weighing 160,000 pounds or more, even if they are not oversize. These two pilots vehicles are also needed if the load exceeds 16’ wide, 16’ high and 150’ long. The State of Indiana requires four State Police vehicles piloting their superload permits.

Where Illinois is more restrictive with pilot cars is the size of the pilot car itself. Illinois Administrative Rule 554.408 requires the vehicle to have gross weight of 8,000 pounds or less. Some have interpreted this to mean the manufacturers GVWR or the registered weight, but that’s not what the regulation says. It only says “gross weight”.

In Missouri, the law does not specify a weight. It only says the pilot car must be a single vehicle such as an “automobile, pickup truck, utility vehicle, station wagon, or equivalent”. Indiana requires the vehicle must have a minimum four wheels and a gross vehicle weight of 12,000 pounds or less.

The thought process behind the smaller pilot car requirement in Illinois is for a few reasons. First, a smaller car allows greater maneuverability through intersections. Second, the purpose of a pilot car is not to transport freight for the permit load itself. One could reason the bigger the pilot car, the more a person can stuff into it. The smaller pilot car limits this opportunity.

Are these regulations right? Are they wrong? It’s an ongoing debate nationwide as the carrier industry attempts to harmonize regulations across borders and struggles with the idea of civilian pilot car certification. The ITEA encourages the states to continue to discuss this topic, and for local agencies to play ball as well.

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Friendly Competition

Ask any law enforcement officer, and if they’re willing to be honest, they will admit there’s an endless competition between police officers and fire fighters.  Sometimes this competition is as simple as poking fun at the differences between assignments. Other times it manifests itself through seething disdain for society’s view of each profession.  There is no doubt the public needs law enforcement officers as well as fire fighters.  Each fills their necessary role at the public’s expense, but could the Illinois legislature be favoring fire fighters?

In 1986 the Federal Government passed the Uniform Commercial Driver’s License Act (UCDLA) which standardized the administration of the Commercial Driver’s License throughout all 50 states.  These regulations laid out who was required and who was exempt from having to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).

Modern day regulations allow for emergency vehicle drivers to be exempt from CDL requirements while operating an emergency vehicle in the preservation of life or property.  This includes both fire fighters and police personnel when responding to emergency situations.

Cops in commercial motor vehicles?  Sounds like a recipe for disaster though there is a need for officers to respond to emergency scenes in mobile command posts or armored vehicles.

Police are not entirely exempt from the law however. When operating an “emergency vehicle” when there is not an actual emergency, both police and fire personnel are required to hold the proper license class for the vehicle they’re operating, as is the case with all driver’s exempt from the CDL regulations. This most commonly is the Class B, non-CDL license which allows the operation of a single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of over 26,000 lbs.

Farming personnel, recreational vehicle drivers and drivers using a large vehicle for non-commercial purposes fall into the same exemption.  They’re not required to obtain a CDL, but are still required to obtain the proper license class.

The difference is how the license is obtained.  The non-Commercial Driver’s License is much simpler to obtain than the CDL.  The Illinois Secretary of State allows the issuance of a Class B non-CDL license after passing only a written test.  All those seeking to obtain a Class B non-CDL must pass the written test at a Secretary of State facility – everyone except for fire fighters.

Fire departments are allowed to send one of their own to the Secretary of State to become certified instructors. Once certified, these instructors may conduct on-the-job training and issue a certificate which firemen can then take to a SOS facility and obtain the license without taking the written test.

It might be reasonable to say that this is not favoritism toward fire fighters; however, wouldn’t farmers benefit from a similar program? So, why aren’t they?

It’s understandable why police are not able to earn their license in this way simply because fire personnel are much more likely to operate a fire truck in a day than a police officer is to operate an armored vehicle.  Or maybe the police can use this program but have simply not inquired.

In the end, it is not all that difficult to obtain your non-CDL license, but it is a good excuse for the competition between fire fighters and police officers to continue.

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1+1=Combination of Vehicles

Its simple math: 1+1=2. Or isn’t it? When a person has a locker which needs to be secured, he employs a lock which is opened with a key, or a combination. Why is it called a combination lock? Because there is more than one number needed to open the device. When multiple objects are together, the singular is lost and the plural is found. This is no different in truck world, but for some reason the difference between a single vehicle and a combination of vehicles eludes both police officers and truckers alike.

First, for purposes of this conversation, the word “vehicle” is very generic. A vehicle is not defined as to whether or not the vehicle is used for commercial purposes. It’s not defined by the requirement for registration. It’s not defined by needing a certain class or endorsement of a driver’s license. It’s defined by whether or not it moves on its own power.

Now stretch and free your mind. Take a single vehicle (represented by the integer “1”) and add it to another single vehicle (also represented by the integer “1”). The sum total of 1+1=2. When this equation is deployed in the vehicle world, there is no longer a single vehicle, but a combination of vehicles. It could be a truck and a trailer, or conversely a trailer and a truck. Either way it is two vehicles.

Interestingly, folk superstars Peter, Paul & Mary had something to say about this in their blockbuster 1969 single, There is Love: “A truck will leave its mother, and a trailer leave its home, and they shall travel on to where the two shall be as one.”

Since the confusion is now clear, here are some practical truck/trailer configuration examples, from easy to hard:

A pickup truck towing a tag trailer
PUTTThis is a combination of vehicles. The pickup truck (1) is towing a trailer (1). Therefore, sum total of vehicles = 2.

 

A semi-tractor towing a semi-trailer

semi-truckThis situation is very similar to #1 above, but there is a twist. What confuses some people is the fact a portion of the load of the semi-trailer (1) is being carried upon the semi-tractor (1). Regardless of the weight distribution, the sum total of 1+1 in this configuration equals 2. This is a combination of vehicles.

 

An all-terrain crane towing a dolly

craneNow things are starting to get interesting. Imagine a massive all-terrain crane with a total of nine axles. Due to bridge load ratings on the crumbling infrastructure of Illinois, these 175,000 pound (or more) behemoths cannot safely operate on the six axles native to the power unit portion of the crane.

To compensate, the carrier will spin the boom backwards and put a three-axle dolly under the boom to spread the weight of load. So there is a power unit (1) and a dolly (1), bringing the sum total of vehicles to 2. This is a combination of vehicles.

“Whoa” says the naysayer. Since the boom is connected to the power unit and now the dolly, this is a single vehicle. Incorrect. These are two separate vehicles. Isn’t this just the reverse of a semi-tractor, semi-trailer combination? In the case of the semi’s, a portion of the weight of the trailer is being carried on the tractor. In the case of the crane, a portion of the weight of the power unit is being carried on the dolly. Combination.


An articulated bus

ctaThese are the accordion buses commonly operated in big cities. The trailer portion of the bus is coupled by a stinger under the rear of the power unit. Then they add this funky accordion curtain to allow passengers to move freely between both vehicles. Do the math: bus (1) + trailer (1) = 2. Very good!

For the legalists though, it must be made clear an articulated bus, while undeniably a combination of vehicles, is considered a single vehicle in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations for the purpose of driver’s licensing. This means an operator only has to have a Class-B CDL with a passenger endorsement.

Never let your schooling interfere with your education.

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A Truck Divided

The basic principle of a divisible load is simple, only those items broken down to the bare minimum qualify. One bucket per excavator. One excavator per trailer. Nothing more, nothing less. Cranes cannot carry extra equipment or building materials, and concrete pumpers must be made as light as possible. Permits were created to provide objects too heavy to be legal weight an opportunity to be brought to a job site. But as with anything in the trucking industry, sometimes divisible items are considered non-divisible loads. Read on for a few examples.

Concrete pumpers use water (and a lot of it) to help push the material over a longer distance, or sometimes up a great height. Water is easily divisible, as it could be carried to the job site by a different vehicle or an on-site water source. By allowing the concrete pumper to simply pay for the extra weight of the water by obtaining a permit, they are able to be more efficient.

For many years mobile cranes were not allowed to carry counterweights, requiring a separate “oiler” truck had to follow behind with all the necessary equipment to make the crane functional. In recent years, IDOT has relaxed this rule and has allowed counterweights when they are securely mounted on the crane. Crane companies can save thousands of dollars by eliminating the second vehicle.

One thing which has not been addressed is spare tires. Every vehicle is required to have spare tires in the event they get a flat. Some trucks use different size tires for different axles requiring multiple spares to be brought with. The advantage is if a flat occurs, the truck driver knows he has the correct spare and does not have to rely on the tire service company called to the scene.

But where does this allowance end? When does a non-divisible load change to a divisible one? The importance of safety in keeping spare tires with the truck is obvious, but how many tires should be allowed? And how much water in the pumper is too much? And when do the counterweights of a crane become too much weight in too small a space for the roadway it’s driving on?

Business in Illinois must move efficiently and effectively, and sometimes there are legitimate exceptions for divisible loads. It’s important for the trucking industry and law enforcement to work in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Transportation to understand what is an acceptable exception to the rule and what is simply a divisible load.

The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is here to work with the trucking industry, law enforcement and the Illinois Department of Transportation so everyone has a uniform understanding and agreement as to what is divisible and what is not.

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Up or Down?

The introduction to this article serves as a reminder that all Illinois truck & trailer flat weight base plates were due for renewal on Thursday, June 30th.  Luckily, the Secretary of State is also open on Saturdays!  While the topic of remembering important things is flowing, let this article provide a second reminder; drop your axles.

Call it what you will.  Drop, tag, cheater, booster, lift, etc.  This article sends a reminder to engage adjustable axles as required.  Not vertically, but horizontally.  Tandem axles on trailers slide back and forth, a fifth wheel slides front to rear and adjustable axles move up and down.  The ITEA has discussed lift axles in previous articles, and even has a Standard of Practice explaining lift axles.  The SOP is openly available to all ITEA members.  While the purpose of lift axles is obvious, some of the rules surrounding them are not.

The Illinois Vehicle Code (IVC) is silent as to rules and regulations regarding the use of adjustable axles. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR) mentions adjustable axles only once in its thousands of pages of rules and regulation.  The FMSCR states under 393.207(b): “Adjustable axles. Adjustable axle assemblies shall not have locking pins missing or disengaged.”

That’s it.

However, adjustable axles are mentioned and covered in the International Registration Plan.  The rules of IRP dictate, for purposes of registration under the IRP plan, “an axle is any such assembly whether or not it is load bearing only part of the time.”

This means 3-axle vehicles, weighing less than 26,000 pounds, which only have two axles engaged can be considered apportioned.  It also means 3-axle trucks coming into Illinois bearing foreign base plates are required to have apportioned registration whether the lift axle is engaged or not.

Ask any experienced truck officer how often they encounter loaded vehicles having a lift axle disengaged and they will say it happens all the time.  Most truckers tell officers they didn’t think they needed it, they don’t like how it makes the truck start/stop on wet pavement or it makes cornering turns difficult.

Earlier this year on a rainy day in the western suburbs of Chicago, a certified ITEA truck officer was following an 8-axle permit load traveling on a state highway.  The officer was able to locate a valid permit for the truck, but noticed when the vehicle turned left onto another continuous state highway, the driver lifted an adjustable drive axle just before it made its turn.

Once the truck finished its turn, the driver lowed the axle back to the ground.  Since the Illinois Vehicle Code and the Illinois Department of Transportation (the permit issuing authority) grants no special provision or authority for truckers to raise adjustable axles while turning, the officer stopped the truck.

The officer told the driver that he was in violation of his permit when raising his axle to turn.  The driver told the officer that the adjustable axle also serves as a steering axle and when the roads are slippery, the axle tends to push the truck while turning making it difficult to maneuver the truck in tight turns.

The officer weighed the truck, and found the drive tandem was overweight on its permit by more than ten thousand pounds because the axle was lifted.  In his discretion, the certified ITEA officer decided against writing the trucker a ticket for several thousand dollars.

Could the officer have issued a citation?  Yes.  Would the trucker have had any recourse other than a court battle?  No.
Hopefully this situation strengthened and protected the bond between the trucking industry and the law enforcement community who serves them, the decision was binding only to this one incident.

In the end, trucks must have as many axles on the ground as the permit stipulates.  There are no exceptions provided.  While a driver may have a rational and articulable reason for raising an adjustable axle, the letter of the law governing an overweight permit says they cannot lift it at all.

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Leveling Portable Scales

Some things in life are common sense. Some things are not. Sometimes common sense prevails, other times it fails. In this conundrum of worldly imperfection, it is quite apparent the laws generated by the elected officials at all levels of governance do not always employ common sense. Some laws are in direct conflict with common sense, some laws simply leave common sense out of the equation. In Illinois truck enforcement world, the law forgets to include common sense in a very critical area: portable scales.

Here’s what any truck officer or trucking professional can tell you – the use of portable scales is a ceaseless debate. Truckers will tell you portable scales are unreliable, inaccurate and abused. Correct. Police officers will tell you portable are reliable, accurate and used appropriately. Also correct.

So in a world when two parties’ beliefs are diametrically opposed, who is correct? The answer? No one. Or wait, they both are.

The truth belongs in the hands of the operator. Police officers or other government agents who deploy portable scales have a burden to make sure they are using the instruments with common sense. And by common sense, this author actually means integrity.

It would seem integrity goes without saying, but much like common sense, it’s an imperfect world with imperfect people. There’s always “that one guy” who puts himself and his agenda ahead of the cause for his own personal gain. He can feel free to refrain from ITEA membership.

Here’s what Illinois law says (paraphrased): portable scales are lawful for enforcement by qualified personnel, and the scales must be certified annually by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. That’s it. Done.

Here’s what Illinois law does not say: the ground must be level. The temperature must be above or below a certain temperature. The officer must weigh all axles simultaneously. Portable scales can’t be used for tag axles. This list could go on forever, but it’s all words, ideas, rumors, speculations and innuendo.

However, this non-statutory list reflects common sense. Unfortunately, many truckers, police officers, attorneys and judges have spent a lot of time arguing and debating over things which do not exist in the law.

Should these things be in the statutes? Probably, but they are not, so quit trying to prove a point which is objectively false. The argument should be over the subjective integrity of the officer or highway worker using the portable scales for enforcement.

Should portable scales be used on reasonable level ground? Of course, but the law does not say so. (quick point – there is no such things as perfectly level ground).
Should the driver be able to release the brakes and the truck not roll off the scale? Of course, but the law does not say so.
Should one side of the truck be higher (or lower) than the other side on portable scales? Of course not, but the law does not say so.
Should the scale operator allow the driver to get out and see the weights on the portable scales? Sure, but the law does not require him to do so.

The police officer with integrity will take great care to make sure the ground where he chooses to weigh vehicles on portable scales is reasonably level. He will make sure the truck will not roll off the scales with the brakes released (static weight). He will allow the operator to get out of the vehicle to look at the weights provided it is safe to do and the delay in time is not creating a traffic problem.

There is a reason why the good book says unequal weights are an abomination and false scales are not good. Those who choose to cheat will be held accountable.

Veteran truck officers (with integrity and common sense) who have used portable scales for a long time know portable scales are accurate when used appropriately. Sorry truckers, it’s true.

The ITEA trains and certifies police officers to use portable scales with a code as if it was written into the law. This is something which must be kept on the level.

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The Clock Is Ticking

With its roots in 19th century warfare, the phrase “deadline” has an interesting, somewhat literal, etymology. According to author Christine Ammer, the term “deadline” was coined at the hellish Andersonville, GA prison camp, and first appeared in writing in a report of Confederate Inspector-General, Colonel D.T. Chandler, on July 5, 1864. In the trucking industry, companies and owner-operators are chased by deadlines all year long.  The article this week will talk about those inevitable deadlines which haunt the trucking industry throughout the calendar year.

Deadline #1 / January 1st
With a new year comes new responsibilities.  If it’s January 1st and you drive a flat weight plated tow truck in the State of Illinois, your registration just expired.  All of the weight allowances you spent your hard earned money on no longer have any meaning while operating upon a public highway.  This means that your tow truck is overweight on registration from pound one.  This applies not only to the average tow truck, but to the heavy lifters and rotators which have flat weight plates as well.

Deadline #2 / March 1st
Do you have three or more axles on your power unit?  Are you registered for, or have, an actual weight exceeding 26,000 pounds while traveling in two or more states?  If you do, then you are required to have a motor fuel tax license and decals as you are subject to the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA).

The International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) is an agreement among states and Canadian provinces to simplify the reporting of fuel use taxes by interstate motor carriers.  The letter of the law says you should have had your license paid for by the first of the year, but the not-so-business friendly State of Illinois gives you two whole months to display your decals as proof of purchase.  This means that if your decals are not properly displayed by March 1st at midnight, you are open to enforcement.

Deadline #3 / April 1st
Are you one of the tens of thousands of truckers who travel interstate?  If you are, there are several requirements you must meet before you do.  Not only do you need to have your IFTA license, IFTA stickers and a medically certified CDL, you must have apportioned registration.  What is apportioned registration?

The International Registration Plan (IRP) is a registration reciprocity agreement between the contiguous United States and Canadian provinces, which provides apportioned payments of registration fees, based on the total distance operated in participating jurisdictions, to them. IRP’s fundamental principle is to promote and encourage the fullest possible use of the highway system.  While all states have different expiration dates for their apportioned plates, the Land of Lincoln renders them expired at midnight on April 1st.  In Illinois, when your apportioned registration plates expire they are purged from the Illinois Secretary of State’s database.  No apportioned registration means overweight from pound one.

Deadline #4 / July 1st
In Illinois, this is perhaps the most infamous deadline in the trucking industry.  On July 1st at the stroke of midnight, all flat weight registration plates will expire.  With the exception of TA-trailer and B-truck plates, all flat weight trailer plates expire as well.  What does expired flat weight registration mean?  It means the vehicle and the load in its entirety is overweight on registration from pound one.  Most responsible trucking companies are well aware of this deadline and begin the registration renewal process well in advance.  Most police departments with truck enforcement programs will be hunting those vehicles which have expired.

These deadlines are like time. It’s like a predator, always stalking you.  You can try to outrun it with a 45-day temporary IRP card- or paperwork which says your registration is ‘applied for’, but in the end, time is the clock which keeps on ticking.

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