Dumb Laws: Fire Truck Weight Limits

There comes a time in the life of a reader when he must ask “who’s the author of this?” Maybe he is reading an opinion piece in the local newspaper. Maybe he is reading comments to a post on social media. Maybe he is reading a blog about trucks. The point to questioning the authority of the author is because something dumb was probably written, something which defies common sense. Unfortunately, this article begs for the author of a new Illinois statute which has limited the weights of certain trucks. In this case, fire trucks. Congratulations Illinois, you have proven your incompetence once again.

Let’s start at the beginning. Each session of Congress in Washington DC typically produces a transportation bill slanted to the political aspirations of the President. In 2015, Congress passed such a bill, better known as the “FAST Act”.

The FAST Act isn’t a bad thing. In a perfect world, new legislation should be an improvement on current legislation. For the most part, the FAST Act is providing good things to the nation. The problem inspiring this article isn’t the FAST Act, it’s the interpretation of it by whoever authored Illinois Public Act 99-0717. This bill was signed into law by Governor Rauner on August 5th, 2016 and immediately became effective.

There’s a lot of changes within the bill, but the biggest failure of common sense is the creation of weight limits on fire trucks. This debacle was broken up into two different parts of the bill.

First, prior to the new law, fire trucks were exempt from all size, weight and load restrictions of the Illinois Vehicle Code. This was found in 625 ILCS 5.0/15-101(b). The new bill struck the language exempting fire apparatus from weight law, but maintained the size and load exemption.

Second, in 15-111(a)(15), the author added fire truck weight limits based on numbers in the FAST Act. In truth, he said fire apparatus can be overweight compared to other vehicles, but they cannot have unlimited weight like before.

Now step back and put on a thinking cap. Try brainstorming reasons why the People of the State of Illinois should be okay with fire trucks being overweight, and why they should not care how heavy the fire trucks are. If you haven’t thought of any reasons yet, you may very well be the author of this law.

Here’s the rub. The FAST Act never required States to put a weight restriction on fire trucks. The FAST Act only said States could not enforce weight limits on fire trucks, unless they exceeded the weight limits listed in FAST Act. Also the FAST Act weight limits only apply to Interstate highways. The point of the FAST Act was to prevent States from implementing weight limits on fire trucks, on Interstates. The Illinois version embraced weight limits on fire trucks, and applied them statewide on ALL roads.

Illinois was already complaint with the FAST Act! There was no weight limit on fire trucks for the State to enforce. Therefore, there was no reason for the State to take any action at all. The author of the Illinois law read the FAST Act completely backwards and erroneously established weight limits for fire apparatus. Now Illinois is stuck with it.

Put the thinking cap back on and ponder some reasons why weight limits on fire trucks are bad. Having a hard time? Here is some Q & A which may clarify things:

Q: Are modern fire trucks really that heavy?
A: Yes. Experienced truck officers know fire trucks are the heaviest trucks in town.

Q: Are fire trucks manufactured prior to this law grandfathered in?
A: Nope. So now all old fire trucks exceeding the new weight limits are illegal. Congratulations taxpayers, you may now have to buy new, lighter fire trucks to replace those which are non-compliant.

Q: Are fire trucks, which exceed the weight limits set forth in this new law, exempt while crossing posted weight structures?
A: No, but under the old law they were exempt. Sorry to the people trapped in the burning building or escapees who are watching their homes burn to ashes before their eyes. The fire truck now has to go the long way around to protect some aging box culvert.

Q: If a fire truck exceeds the new weight limits, could the local unit of government be held civilly liable if it is involved in a crash which results in serious injuries, death or property destruction?
A: Maybe? Probably? Police officers and their employers are held civilly liable when they break traffic laws. Why wouldn’t a fireman and the town he works for be held to the same standard? Read this correctly taxpayer – you pay the bill when the lawsuits come.

Listen, no one is worried about Illinois police officers running loose with ticket books, stopping fire trucks and weighing them. The police officer who makes this stupid decision will probably have stopped his last truck. This is about protecting the taxpayers of Illinois from liability of fire trucks exceeding ridiculous weight limits written by an author who didn’t critically read federal legislation.

Not to fear though, trucks used in snow and ice removal are still exempt from all weight laws. Maybe keep a load of salt handy to extinguish your fire because the first responders may be delayed.

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