Put the Phone Down

There was a time when talking to someone meant having to locate them in person and deliver a message. Then the telephone was invented and you could call someone at their house and talk to them. If they weren’t home you would leave a message and patiently wait for a return call. Now we can instantly send a message to someone from almost anywhere in the world. But what about when driving, is it safe to be on electronic devices cruising down the road? What laws pertain to all the equipment police officers and truckers have in their mobile offices?

Illinois law has two separate statutes that pertain to electronic communication devices and vehicles. One is designed for passenger cars and trucks, the other is intended for operators of commercial motor vehicles. Both are directed at drivers keeping their eyes on the road and not on a screen.

Illinois statute 625 ILCS 5/12-610.1 and 12-610.2 define wireless telephones as electronic communication devices, and provide definitions needed to understand the laws. A wireless telephone is just that, a phone which can receive and make calls without a wire. An electronic communication device is a little more complicated.

“Electronic communication device” means an electronic device, including but not limited to, a hand-held wireless telephone, hand-held personal digital assistant, or a portable or mobile computer. However, this definition does not include a global positioning system or navigation system physically or electronically integrated into the motor vehicle.

The statute goes on to give examples when a driver is exempt from the statute:

* law enforcement or other authorized emergency vehicles
* a driver using a communication device to report an emergency
* a commercial vehicle driver reading a message on a permanently mounted device with a screen that does not exceed at least 10 inches by 10 inches
* while parked on the side of the roadway
* when the vehicle is stopped due to normal traffic being obstructed and the vehicle is in park or neutral
* two way or citizens band radio
* amateur radio users
* using a single button to start or end a phone call
* a driver using an electronic communication device capable of performing multiple functions, other than a hand-held wireless telephone or hand-held personal digital assistant (for example, a fleet management system, dispatching device, citizens band radio, or music player) for a purpose that is not otherwise prohibited by this Section.

For the common motor vehicle driver. In a nutshell, put the phone down. Although it is not illegal to use a phone while stopped at a red light (if the car is in neutral), what usually happens is the light turns green and the driver is still looking at the phone. Traffic will start moving and the officer will start writing the ticket as the driver sits there texting.

As for using a cell phone GPS system, best practice would be to set it before the trip and forget it. Although GPS systems are listed as an exemption, if the driver is looking at screen and simultaneously runs a red light, the officer will start writing the ticket.

A laptop on the center console while driving also does not meet the definition of installed. One certainly should not be entering purchase orders while cruising along the highway. This will not make the cut and the officer will start writing that ticket.

The best practice is to use a hands-free system that will make calls on command, voice integration will keep the driver up to date, read texts out load and the user to respond. Being distracted by a phone is like driving under the influence. Mental process time slows down and reactions become delayed.

For anyone who has looked inside a modern police car, it’s a wonder any driving can be accomplished. Between the radios, the computer, the cameras and radar gun there is also a cell phone. All too often officers are using one or more of the gadgets at the same time while driving down the road.

It is important for officers to remember to be an example for others and try to limit the distractions inside the car. This is a hard task as they are constantly getting messages on the computer or running a license plate. Police officers can limit phone use in the car, especially while driving. Pulling into a parking lot to talk on the phone might be the example needed for someone to follow suit.

Commercial vehicle drivers, it is imperative that you put the phone down. Switch to a hands-free system. The penalties for driving a commercial motor vehicle (those which require a CDL) and talking on your phone are far greater than a regular driver. The risk of losing your commercial driver’s license is there, and should be all that is needed to make someone think twice before talking on their cell phone while driving that big rig.

Together we can work on making Illinois a safer state to drive in. Enjoy the roads around you and the beauty that Illinois offers. Put the phone down and enjoy driving again.

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Lawyering Part 4: Scruples

Every great artist gets their start somewhere. Some start out as gang members tagging walls and railroad cars. Others start out at the carnival drawing big head caricatures of visitors. When real people conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the stereotype of their profession, they are a caricature of what the good people in their career field represent. Just like there are bad apple police officers and truckers, there are unscrupulous trucking defense attorneys out there too.

In Illinois, the Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission oversees all attorneys practicing law in Illinois. If lawyers are dirty, it’s the ARDC who will take action. Not all bad behaviors and complaints will be decided by the ARDC, but attorneys are required to conduct themselves according to their rules and regulations.

It’s the American dream and the right of every citizen to work as hard as they want to earn as much as they can. The problem is how people earn their success, not the mere fact they are successful. Many people take shortcuts to the top, and typically those are the people who fall the hardest. Some find a golden parachute without much effort, but the vast majority of successful people labor to the top.

Hats off to the lawyer who is out there pounding pavement each day drumming up work. Similar to how the public expects the police to work hard (according to the law), the public should expect the same from officers of the court. Unfortunately, some attorneys take shortcuts to find clients.

There’s nothing wrong with a defense attorney who wants to defend overweight citations. It’s perfectly okay for him to go to the courthouse, look up every overweight vehicle defendant cited and contact them reference their legal services. This is common practice is criminal defense world.

What the same defense attorney should be never do is solicit work in this manner using bold faced lies and fear mongering tactics. Below is the text of a solicitation letter by an attorney, sent to an ITEA trucking member, after they received an overweight citation:

“My name is (name deleted), and I am a local traffic violation defense attorney. A recent review of public traffic records indicates that you were recently charged with Overweight on Bridge which is a moving traffic violation. Depending on your prior offenses, this could be considered a Class C misdemeanor or petty violation under the laws of the State of Illinois and is a moving traffic violation. In addition to your fine, you could also receive five (5) to fifty (50) points on your driving record.”

This one paragraph is the handiwork of an unscrupulous defense attorney using fear, lies and blatant disregard for the plain language of law to solicit clientele. Who knows how many truckers he bamboozled to make a quick buck. It’s a disgrace and here’s why:

•   Overweight is a “moving traffic violation”: First of all, there is no legal definition of a “moving violation” which you can read about in previous articles by the ITEA by clicking HERE, HERE and HERE. In the case of Catom v Chicago, the Appellate Court ruled overweights are a moving violation, but that does not mean overweights have a negative impact on a driver’s CDL. Quite the contrary.

•   “…prior offenses could be considered a Class C misdemeanor”: This is a straight up lie. Only once in 625 ILCS 5/15-10, the size and weight section of the Illinois Vehicle Code, is the word misdemeanor ever mentioned. This is in reference to load securement for steel coils. That’s it. There is no such thing as a misdemeanor overweight for multiple violations.

•   Drivers could receive “five (5) to fifty (50) points” on their record: Again, flat out lie. Apparently this attorney has never read the Illinois Vehicle Code or the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. In both of those authoritative codes regulating CDL holders, overweights are never once mentioned as serious traffic violations which receive points. In the ACD (AAMVA Code Dictionary), which is used by every state licensing agency (Illinois Secretary of State), overweights are not assigned points.

If you are a lawyer reading this, the ITEA hopes you would never stoop to the disgusting level of this attorney. Don’t be the stereotype or caricature of your profession. There’s better ways to earn your living. If you are the trucker, don’t believe everything you read.

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Lawyering Part 3: Prepaid Legal Services

If you are skilled and experienced professional, you can easily spot an impostor in your trade. A good carpenter can spot a hack from a mile away. A seasoned trucker can spot a novice from even further away. The carpenter may have a union card and the trucker may have a CDL, but that does not mean they are good at what they do. The same rings true for lawyers, and the article this week will discuss what happens when truckers routinely hire less than adequate representation through prepaid legal services.

Ask a police officer about the last time someone walked up to him on the street and started talking shop. Most off-duty police officers don’t purposefully beeline to unformed police personnel just to talk policing. However, those who want to be police officers or are involved in private security do it all the time. Any policeman with an ounce of discernment can see it coming from a mile away.

This is not to disparage people testing to be the police or working in security. It’s just police officers know their own by the way a person walks and talks. Just as police officers can subconsciously identify another police officer, they can also sniff out an attorney in court who knows nothing about truck laws.

Not all policemen are created equal. Some excel at criminal investigations. Some are fantastic community liaisons. Some are great truck officers. It takes all kinds of police officers to make a well-rounded, full service police department.

Similarly, there are a lot of attorney types out there. There are tax attorneys, real estate attorneys, divorce attorneys and criminal defense attorneys. Within the subset of criminal attorneys there are those who specialize in murder, DUI or traffic. Just because an attorney has passed the bar and can legally stand before the judge as an officer of the court does not mean he has a clue about truck law.

So what does this have to do with prepaid legal services? Well, if you are a trucker barely scraping by, one traffic ticket worth of fines can sink you. The temptation to pay a monthly rate to guarantee legal defense is attractive.

The problem is not the philosophy of the prepaid legal business model. The problem is the lack of guarantee you will be assigned an attorney who knows anything about truck laws. Yes, a speeding ticket for a CDL holder has far greater consequences than regular drivers. Yes, most criminal attorneys can probably find their way around court for a simple speeder.

But what about an oversize or overweight ticket? What about a CDL violation? These violations may carry significant CDL ramifications and financial penalties. The law regarding these violations are complicated and there are very few attorneys who have even a basic handle on them.

It takes a skilled truck officer all of five seconds to figure out if an attorney has the guts, knowledge or diplomacy skills to make sure you get the fair deal. Prepaid attorneys may show up and try to work out a plea deal. That’s okay provided the citation is legit and not incorrect, but a middle-of-the-road attorney probably doesn’t know. Not good for you, Mr. Trucker.

Or maybe you are assigned one of these obnoxious attorneys who likes to come to court, be loud and make a scene. Volume is a cover for a lack of ability. He hopes the police and prosecutors will cower and do whatever he wants just to make the case go away. Good chance they will probably dig in and call his bluff.  Not good for you, Mr. Trucker.

Or maybe you get the self-righteous attorney who shows up with a half-baked, asinine interpretation of a truck law and tries to bamboozle the far more knowledgeable police officer. Not good for you Mr. Trucker.

There is nothing inherently wrong with prepaid legal defense work for CDL holders. There is nothing wrong with an attorney subscribed to these services looking for work to pay their bills. Everyone needs to eat.

What a wise trucker needs to do is make sure the monthly fee he is paying will guarantee a real truck defense attorney. One who is local, has much previous experience and knows his way around the world of truck enforcement. Or maybe you should call the ITEA first and find out who the good attorneys are.

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Lawyering Part 2: Let’s Make a Deal

Everyone wants a deal. Finding a bargain, a huge sale or an unbelievable coupon makes purchasing an item all the sweeter. Finding a great deal when you are shopping is one thing, receiving a deal when you are in trouble with the law is something completely different. The article this week will look at the role attorneys play in negotiating lower fines for overweights and other truck specific violations.

A man is charged with murder and he’s straight up guilty. He bought the gun, possessed it, lined up the sights and squeezed the trigger. Death penalty? Not in Illinois, but maybe the rest of his natural life in prison. The question which begs for an answer is whether or not there was mitigation.

Turns out the victim had threatened the defendant’s family beforehand. He was an ex-convict too. These could be mitigating circumstances which an attorney can use to encourage a reduction from murder to a lesser crime like manslaughter.

Mitigating circumstances are not legal reasons, or even valid excuses, to lessen charges. Instead, they are leverage to discourage an “all or nothing” trial. No policeman or prosecutor wants to build a rock-solid case only to lose at trial. The same goes for a defense attorney hired by the defendant.

When it comes to truck violations in Illinois, particularly overweight citations, the fines can be astronomical. In a cut-throat economy where every dollar counts, even smaller overweight fines (less than $1000) are bitter pills to swallow for a trucker or his company.

The job of a defense attorney is to seek out the mitigating circumstances to the violation and work with the prosecution or a reduced charge. While the end goal is a lesser monetary fine, picking a random dollar amount out of thin air is not proper.

Much like the murder charge example above, the calculated fine for the overweight is based on a statutory requirement. To reduce the fine, the overweight charge must be reduced as well. If 25,000 pounds overweight on gross yields a $10,000 fine, then the citation must be amended in open court to a lesser weight (say 15,000 pounds over) to reduce the fine to rough negotiated number.

Each jurisdiction handles the negotiation differently. Some will allow the police officer who wrote the citation to work out the deals. Some require the local prosecutor or the state’s attorney to work out the fines. Either way, any mitigation will be presented prior to the hearing through one of these people.

Every trucker knows the mitigating circumstances, and every experienced truck officer has heard them all! There were no signs posted. The boss told me to go that way. The shipper said take the load or I wouldn’t be paid. I’ve been over the state scale on interstate (insert number) hundreds of times with this same load and have never been stopped.

None of these are legal defenses under the law, but they are all mitigating circumstances. What a trucker needs to ask himself is whether or not he has the verbal skills to professionally convey the mitigation prior to the hearing to receive a negotiated reduction in the crime.

Unfortunately, most cannot. Understandably there is a lot of emotion and anger associated with a large fine for a glorified traffic violation. Too many times truckers who believe their mitigating circumstances are justification for dismissal come to court amped up only to learn they are wrong. They try to represent themselves, lose at trial and pay a stiff penalty.

This is not to say every overweight requires a defense attorney, but a trucker or truck owner needs to know his limitations. An experienced and knowledgeable trucking defense attorney knows the actual law (not the supposed law learned in the shop, local bar or anonymous internet forums). He probably knows the officers who wrote the ticket. He probably can stand in front of a prosecutor or judge with less venom and more diplomacy to achieve a “desirable” outcome.

If a defense attorney knows his stuff, he can mitigate effectively. The truth is overweight violations are fairly black and white and most not trial worthy. Truckers facing prosecution for expensive overweight violations need to choose their legal representation carefully, because not all attorneys are created equal. The next two weeks this blog will look at what is behind curtains number two and three in attorney world.

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Lawyering Part 1

Once upon a time, the Family Feud surveyed 100 people for the top answers on who to call when you are in trouble. Number 1 on the board? The police, of course. Number 3? Lawyers. What has yet to be discovered is a Family Feud survey asking for the top 10 adjectives used to describe lawyers (or police officers for that matter!) Over the years, this article does a fine job holding the feet of policeman and truckers to the fire. Now it’s time to dig into our other member occupation – lawyers.

A previous ITEA article was written regarding the lack of knowledge by police supervisors and why it is important for the ITEA to serve as a point of external accountability for truck officers. As a defendant travels down the road of criminal justice from roadside to jail, the knowledge of truck laws does not improve from the police station to the courthouse.

Do local prosecutors or state’s attorneys have a solid understanding of truck laws? Rarely. Do the judges, who were once the attorneys standing on the floor prosecuting or defending truckers have any clue? Again, rarely.

Similar to the career trajectory of police officers, few attorneys can fully devote themselves to truck defense. They need to represent clients charged with other types of crimes or take on civil work to pay the bills. This is not to say police officers or attorneys with other responsibilities cannot be masters of their craft. However, becoming a subject matter expert is difficult if the workload is thin and stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.

The cultural view of attorneys is a love/hate relationship. While most Americans will typically demonize defense attorneys with the words coming out of their mouth, they will not hesitate to call the phone number on that little card in their wallet when they are in trouble. Americans may call lawyers “liars” and denigrate them at every turn, yet TV shows and movies about legal work is a massive genre which never grows old.

Just as all police are seen as the enemy to the criminal element of society, in the eyes of law enforcement defense attorneys have the reputation of being the low of the low. They tear policemen apart on the stand. They introduce arguments to distract from the case at hand. They conduct themselves in loud and boisterous ways to turn the courtroom into a circus.

The unfortunate reality is attorneys like that are the exception to the rule. The same police officers who are quick to cast a wide net of judgment over all lawyers are the same police officers who quickly condemn the citizenry beating them up on social media. It’s the “few bad apples” argument.

The problem for police officers is wrapping their justice-seeking minds around the fact people, even those who are bad and deserving of consequence, can be professionally represented to beat the charges. What is aggravating to law enforcement is uninformed attorneys taking credible police work to task. What is infuriating is a court system which buys into it.

The reason the ITEA membership is open to lawyers is to prevent bad lawyering. This association works tirelessly to bring wayward truck officers to the middle. Similarly, the ITEA spends an inordinate amount of time training and resourcing truckers to be complaint with the law.

Does it not make perfect sense to do the same for the profession which serves as the third arm of the criminal justice system? Would it not be better for all parties involved to have competent prosecutors and defense attorneys rather than foolish ones?

No truck officer likes a defense attorney who beats them in court. The quality truck officer will look deep and ask if he beat himself by doing sloppy police work, or did he lose to an attorney who exploited the system? If the later, welcome to the real world. If the former, do better next time.

ITEA truck officers recognize they need good defense attorneys out there to hold them accountable for doing their job with excellence. When police officers cross all their T’s and dot all their I’s, it’s a tough case to beat.

The next three weeks, this blog will look at three aspects of lawyering typically seen in truck enforcement world…and it is going to get interesting!

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Trucker Flat Tax Day

The wise man saved his money all year so there was enough cash to pay for the year-end holiday shopping. Hopefully he saved, or had enough income tax withheld from his paycheck, to satisfy the taxman on April 15th. For the truckers, the next day of reckoning in Illinois is June 30th. Some have already paid, some are still saving. Yet others are waiting until the last minute…and the truck enforcement officers will be lying in wait for them on July 1st.

There’s no doubt the cost of doing business in Illinois is not cheap. Vehicle registration (bloated with the commercial distribution fee) only adds more fuel to the fire. For Illinois carriers who are intrastate only, this mean their base plated trucks and trailers need to have 2016 registration renewed on or before July 1st, 2015.

Unlike many types of vehicle registration in Illinois, flat weight registration for 2nd division vehicles expires on June 30th. Cars can renew based on whichever of the twelve months the plates were originally obtained. Not so with truckers.

Flat weight registration is broken down into four quarters of the year, with the first three-month quarter beginning on July 1st. If a carrier goes to the Secretary of State on June 22nd, 2015 to purchase the full years registration for 2016, he will pay the full fee.

What trips up many carriers is when they purchase registration for a new truck midway through the registration year. It seems illogical that a carrier who buys a new truck on June 22nd, 2015 will pay for 2015 registration, only for it to expire eight days later.

Unfortunately, that’s how it goes and that’s why the rate is discounted each quarter. The registration is not valid year-to-date from the day it was purchased.

On July 1st, the truck enforcement officers of Illinois will be on the hunt for yellow 2015 stickers. The purple 2016 stickers is what will keep the trucks
rolling. When a police officer finds a truck or trailer without the registration fees paid, the truck will be weighed and it will be issued an overweight on registration citation.

The fine will be based on the full annual fee, no matter which quarter in the registration year the citation occurred. The SOS may very well sell registration at the pro-rated fees, but fines for the crime of overweight on registration is different.

There’s a new law in 2015 though. The Illinois General Assembly has mandated a level of discretion for the police. Currently, if a police officer sees an expired sticker, and a check through the SOS database shows it was indeed expired, the overweight citation would be issued.

Under this new law, Public Act 98-1103, the same scenario may have a different conclusion depending on receipt documentation carried in the truck. If the driver can show fees have been paid to the Secretary of State, even though the registration is expired in the system, then the officer cannot write the overweight citation.

This new law codifies a practice which the ITEA has been encouraging its truck officers to follow for years. There is a catch however. Notice the law says a receipt from the Secretary. It does not say a currency exchange or a licensing service.

The ITEA will still admonish officers to use good discretion in deciding whether or not to honor a receipt from a third-party service. A simple verification phone call to the issuing agency usually does the trick. Officers are also encouraged to not be dogmatic in requiring the receipt to physically be in the truck. A scan or a fax copy of the receipt should suffice.

As always, no police officer may write an overweight on registration citation without actually weighing the vehicle on approved and certified scales. Lazy police work using the manufacturers GVWR or the previous years registered weight are unlawful.

It’s a cat and mouse game on July 1st. Truckers, make sure to get your plates renewed on time.

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A Pain in the Class

What do all these terms have in common – road, street, highway, freeway, tollway, expressway, avenue, lane, parkway, boulevard? For sake of the word count, the list will end there, but each represents titles of routes which are available for vehicular travel. However, none of them mean jack squat when it comes to determining maximum size and weight limitations in Illinois. Those definitions are left to an antiquated five-part classification system to be discussed in this article.

The first point to understand is that routes either marked (numbered) and unmarked (unnumbered) do not determine size and weight laws. Once upon a time there were trails for frontiersmen, horses and buggies and eventually automobile traffic. Smart people decided to mark these routes with numbers. Smarter people found a way to logically codify them for mapping.

In 1926, the U.S. Route, or U.S. Highway marking system began. These marked roads still exist today, but the mere fact it is classified with a U.S. Route designation does not determine maximum size and weight limits in Illinois.

In 1956, President Eisenhower launched the Interstate highway system. These marked roads are still the primary federal-aid highways in the nation. While their importance is paramount, the mere fact they are classified as an “interstate” does not determine maximum size and weight in Illinois.

Illinois provides counties the ability to mark county roads with numbers. But those title and markings do not determine maximum size and weight laws in Illinois.

Before a reader with extensive knowledge of highway history lore gets their panties in a bunch, yes, there are federal mandates and rules regarding how states set size and weight limits on certain highways. That is irrelevant to this conversation though.

No matter the marking, the funding mechanism or the hierarchy of government ownership ascribed to a particular highway, all routes within Illinois fall into one of five classes. These classifications determine the maximum size and weight limits in Illinois.

Where do you find a map or classification of these highways? The best and most up-to-date resource is the Illinois Department of Transportation website, gettingaroundillinois.com. Here you can layer maps to see what the highway classification is and whether or not the route is state or locally maintained.

The five-part classification system in Illinois used to have a more profound effect prior to 2010 when Illinois had a bifurcated weight system. Today, with all highways in Illinois being uniform in weight, the five-part classification system is more about dimensions than weight.

So what are the classifications? Glad you asked:

Class-I designated highways
All interstates and tollways in Illinois are Class I highways. There are a few other Class-I state highways, but local roads cannot be designated as Class-I highways. All Class-I highways are marked.

Class-II designated highways
These highways may be marked or unmarked, and can be designated by either state or local government. Statutorily speaking, Class-II highways must have minimum lane widths of 11 feet.

Prior to uniform weight laws in Illinois, it was more common to see local government designate certain highways as Class-II routes to allow for higher weight limits into industrial and commercial transportation areas. Today, local Class-II designation is more about providing longer trucks a lawful way to access these destinations.

Class-III designated highways
Much like their Class-II cousins, these highways may be marked or unmarked, and may be classified as such by local or state government. The key disparity here is the Illinois Vehicle Code defines them as having lane widths of less than 11 feet. As roads are rebuilt to higher standards for larger vehicles and traffic volume, Class-III highways are rapidly going by way of the dinosaur.

State non-designated highways
The Illinois Department of Transportation has a lot of roadway to cover. The bulk of non-designated state routes are unmarked, but there are plenty of marked state highways which are non-designated as well. Vehicles traveling on these state non-designated highways are not afforded the same length as their state designated highway counterpart.

Local non-designated highways
These are county, municipal and township highways, except for the those designated as Class-II or III by the local government. Local non-designated highways lesser length limits as compared to state non-designated highways.

Determining highway classification is only half the battle. Learning maximum size and weight laws is an animal all its own. Both IDOT and the ITEA have resources available to help navigate this legalities of operating vehicles upon this maze of highways. Use them…please.

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Overweight Bodycams

Since August 2014, a re-energized conversation has swept the United States regarding the relationship between law enforcement and racial minority populations. It’s loud, it’s heated and it’s not going away any time soon. One of many dialogues revolves around the use of body cameras by police officers. As Illinois wrestles with the advent of this technology, the trucking industry has unwillingly found themselves squarely in the middle of the debate. The article this week explains why.

To be perfectly clear, the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is not taking a position of support or opposition to police body cameras. There are some interesting things to consider though.

First, the trucking industry has many complaints about law enforcement, some justified, some not. The ITEA has heard them all, but the ITEA has yet to field a complaint from truckers about police officers using excessive force.

Second, as has been proven by dashcam videos with officers wearing body microphones, noisy trucks and recorded audio don’t mix well. What the viewer hears is the police officer closing the car door, the roar of traffic passing by at breakneck speeds, then the garble of diesel engines silencing all conversation.

The intelligent reader quickly concludes the bodycam movement is not predicated on trucking, so why even mention these two points? Because in Illinois, the carrier industry is going to be the one funding the lion’s share of bodycam legislation – but it’s not their problem.

At the time of publishing, SB 1304 has passed both houses of the Illinois General Assembly and is on its way to Governor Bruce Rauner. If he signs the legislation into law, it will become effective January 1st, 2016.

This bill sat dormant from February 28th to May 26th, 2015. On May 27th two amendments were introduced, which completely changed the original purpose for the bill. Within 72 hours it had cleared both the House and Senate. It happened so quickly lobbyists and special interests groups from both trucking and law enforcement did not have time to fully understand the text. This is typical Illinois politics.

In fairness to the two sponsors of the bill, they understandably had no idea how the funding mechanism would interact with the complexities of truck law. To their credit, after the trucking industry informed them of the unfair and disproportional tax being placed on their industry, Senator Kwame Raoul and Representative Elgie Sims agreed to introduce a trailer bill to remedy the original bill.

The trailer bill is not really a fix until it is signed by the Governor. Getting the bill to his desk may prove tougher than originally thought. Why? Because of surcharges, and the state agency who wants the surcharge revenue does not want to give it up. Again, this is Illinois politics.

On June 7th, 2014, the ITEA published an article called Surcharging. This post explained the how a statutory surcharge is collected by law enforcement when they write overweight tickets and how none of the revenue comes back to them. This topic was also discussed in a May 23rd article titled Calculated Fines.

To fund bodycams, SB 1304 mandates a $5 increase from $10 to $15, for every $40 of traffic fines. Say a person pleads guilty to speeding and is fined $120. The surcharge for the motorist increases $15 from $30 to $45. It stings, but it’s not the end of the world. Hey – it’s the general public who wants the police bodycams anyhow, so let them fund it.

The trucking industry is not clamoring for bodycams, but they are the ones who are going to fund an estimated 40% of the revenue through surcharges on overweights!

The trucker who gets a 5,000 pound overweight will see the surcharge rise from $420 to $630 ($210). A 10,000 pound overweight goes from $750 to $1125 ($375). A 120,000 permit load which accidentally goes off route (40,000 pounds overweight) will see a $1500 increase from $3000 to $4500!

If the pre-SB 1304 surcharge fees were not disproportional enough, tacking on a 33% increase to an industry trying to help this fledgling state economy survive is ridiculous.

To add further insult to injury, SB 1304 does not mandate law enforcement to use bodycams. It only helps provide funding if they elect too.

There is a reality many police agencies will not take advantage of the projected $6 million in funding provided by the surcharge increase. If so, how will those leftover funds benefit truckers?

It won’t and there is no legislation to make it so. Those dollars will go into another coffer for the State of Illinois to mismanage, similar to the 14.35% surcharge on truck & trailer registration, aka the Commercial Distribution Fee.

The irony is bodycams are all about accountability. Who is holding accountable those in control of the bodycam purse strings?

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Calculated Fines

Okay, the secret is out. When it comes to overweight vehicle enforcement in Illinois, there is money in it for local government. What is not very well understood is where the fine money actually goes. Lots of rumor and speculation, so the article this week will delve into the quagmire of statutory fines for overweights. You may very well be surprised that it is not as lucrative for local government as you once believed.

When discussing Chapter 15 overweights, there is a garden variety of offenses which could be cited. Overweight on gross weight. Overweight on axle. Overweight on bridge formula. Overweight on elevated structure. Either way, all four of these share the fine chart found in 625 ILCS 5/15-113(a).

The fine however is not the bottom line for the money paid on an overweight fine. When the police officer weighs a truck and tells the driver the bail is a “$XXXXX.XX”, there are really three different parts to the calculation. So here goes…

Part 1 – Statutory Fine
This figure is set by the state legislature, your elected representatives. You can argue (ill-advised) with motive, discretion and attitude of a police officer all day long, but you can’t blame him for is the fine schedule. The politicians created it.

Until 2010, these figures were based on $75 for every 500 pounds. As part of a quid pro quo agreement between the legislature and the trucking industry, the fines were doubled to $150 for every 500 pounds in exchange for uniform weight laws.

Here’s what you probably did not know: the doubled portion of the fine does not go to the locals. It goes to the State of Illinois. The locals still only get $75 for every 500 pounds overweight (but they don’t…see below), and the State Capital Fund gets $75 for doing none of the work. That’s why everyone loves Illinois.

The rub here is when fines are finalized in court, the Supreme Court Rules kick in. The Circuit Clerks can only distribute funds as set by the high justices of Illinois. Guess what? Of that $75, the local authority only receives 44.5% of their $75, or $33.38. The remaining 55.5% goes to the State Treasurer (16.825%) and the county’s general corporate fund (38.675%), both of whom did none of the work.

Part 2 – Surcharge
What fee would not be complete it there was not a surcharge tax? Oddly, this is not found in the Vehicle Code, but in the Corrections Code, 730 ILCS 5/5-9-1. For all traffic charges (not registration offenses), the surcharge is calculated at $10 for every $40 of fine.

This revenue is sent by the Circuit Clerk to the State Treasurer (who did none of the work), and is deposited into a host of sub-funds to promote state level public safety programs. How much of the surcharge goes to the local town who issued the citation? That’s right…zero.

Part 3 – Court Fees
There’s a 102 counties in Illinois, so theoretically there are 102 different court fee calculations. The Supreme Court has authorized several categories for fees, and maximum limits for each fee. There is the clerk fee, the automation fee, the document storage fee, the court finance fee, the “other” fee, the E-ticket fee, and the Illinois State Police vehicle fund fee.

The counties do not have to collect all these or part of them. Regardless of the amount collected, how much goes to the local town who issued the citation? That’s right…zero.

So let’s look at a truck found to be 5350 overweight on an axle in Cook County, with a total bail of $2229:

Statutory Fine: $1650
– State of Illinois Capital Fund: $825
– Illinois State Treasurer: $138.81
– County Corporate Fund: $319.06
– Local town who wrote the ticket: $367.13

Surcharge: $420
– Various State of Illinois funds: $420
– Local town who wrote the ticket: $0

Court Fees: $159
– Various County funds: $159
– Local town who wrote the ticket: $0

So for that initial bail of $2229 cash the driver had to pay, that local town only reaped $367.13, or 16.5%, of the total haul. The rest went to fund broken state and county revenue machines.

The other point to consider is this only represents the initial fines. Most police officers are willing to negotiate a lower fine in court, typically giving back one-third (33%) to one-half (50%) of the fine. This means even less for the local jurisdiction, who did all the work.

Hey – $367 is better than a stick in the eye for local coffers, but it’s not the pot of gold that most truckers and local leaders believe. The ITEA does not advocate the use of local administrative adjudication for overweight violations because it is illegal. However, if anyone wonders why a town would attempt this, now you know.

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Deflategate

Now that Super Bowl XLIX (and the halftime show) is done, America can also get busy forgetting the buzzword of January 2015 “deflate-gate”. Was it intentional? Was it not? Does it matter either way? The jury is out. There are plenty of football blogs to read about on that topic, but what this blog will inflate this week is what the law says about tires in Illinois, and what that means for enforcement of trucks.

First things first. There are two sets of laws regarding tires. First being the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). In Illinois, this set of laws is enforceable by the Illinois State Police only. The second is the Illinois Vehicle Code. The two codes are very similar in language about what makes a tire safe or unsafe, but they are not identical.

There are several reasons a tire could be considered “bad” or better yet, “unsafe”. Here are the common reasons why a tire could be found unfit to be on the roads of this great state:

  1. The ply or cord is exposed – this is not the same as a retread tire beginning to come apart.
  2. Cuts or cracks in the tread which exposes the ply or cord
  3. Cuts or cracks in the sidewall
  4. Insufficient tread depth within statutory intervals. 4/32” on the steer tires, 2/32” on everything else.
  5. Bulges or knots
  6. Deflated tires

While the regulations are very close in scope, how an officer stops and discovers the violations are an entirely different story.

When it comes to a motor carrier inspection by the Illinois State Police, troopers have the authority to stop any commercial vehicle (10,001 pounds or more) just to inspect it, which includes tires. If they find two bad tires next to each other, they have the authority to place the vehicle out of service.

Can local police officers do the same? No. Local police officers in Illinois do not have the authority to stop and detain trucks for the purpose of an inspection for any equipment violation. Local police officers must have probable cause to stop a truck. They are limited to enforcing the violation within the scope of the original reason for the stop, and then can only expand based on volumes of case law regarding search and seizure.

Is it possible for a police officer to see a worn out tire in plain view and use that as probable cause to stop a vehicle? Absolutely. If a police officer pulls alongside a truck at a red light, looks at the tires and sees it is totally bald, has bulges or knots or is deflated, that is probable cause. The law has been broken.

What that does not mean is the police officer then has cause to further his inquest into all other sorts of equipment violations. He can ask the driver for his driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. He can check the tires which appeared to be bad. He can probably even make a quick walk around the truck and look at all the tires. That is within the scope of the stop and not unnecessarily detaining the driver for an unconstitutional amount of time.

He can’t check brakes, log books, medical cards, wheel lash, frame or suspension integrity, and so on. These are laws under the exclusive enforcement authority of the Illinois State Police.

So what does the local police officer do when he finds bad tires if he does not have the authority to put the vehicle out of service? The IVC, in 625 ILCS 5/12-405(f), provides a small remedy.

If a local police officer has “reasonable cause to believe” the vehicle is in violation of this section, he can order it off the road to inspect the tires. Just the tires, only the tires. Not anything else. Ordering it off the road is not the same as placing it out of service.

Conversely, a police officer who finds a truck with bad tires cannot lawfully tell a driver it is okay to continue driving with them. The job of law enforcement is never to enable further breaking of the law. Whether or not a police officer chooses to cite the driver or not is irrelevant.

The officer should advise the driver to get the problem fixed before traveling down the road. He should also admonish the driver that if he proceeds with unsafe tires and gets in a crash and kills someone, that is on him, not the officer. Or if he continues to drive, gets stopped in the next town and receives a ticket, that is his responsibility too.

Well maintained tires are paramount to safe trucking and good mileage. Proper enforcement is just as important.

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