I Saw the Sign

They come in all different colors, shapes and sizes. Some are old, some are new, but the one thing they all have in common is each has a unique message which is meant to assist the motoring public in being compliant with the law. Once again, this article is talking about a type of traffic control device seen daily. Traffic signs. In the world of commercial vehicles, there is often confusion about these seemingly harmless, reflective, works of art. Their placement, content and ramifications if violated are always topics brought to the ITEA by its members.

Over the years, there have been many hard fought court battles regarding the meaning and legitimacy of signs limiting the weight and size of trucks. Often times these battles are initiated by an incident where one party simply doesn’t understand its responsibility to post, enforce or obey a traffic control sign.

The most common sign a trucker will see on their route is a local weight limit sign. What do these signs look like? Well, the truth is, it depends on the jurisdiction traveled through and what the local has decided to put on their signs.

Local jurisdictions have the authority to restrict commercial vehicles on roads they own and maintain. This means a city, village, township or county may pass an ordinance or resolution restricting the weights or size of vehicles.

The caveat is if a vehicle violates the sign and travels on the restricted roadway, they cannot be enforced as overweight or oversize as it pertains to what the state law says a vehicle can be. For example, a truck weighing 10,000 pounds travels on a local road with a posted 5,000 pound weight limit. The driver cannot be cited for an overweight violation. Instead, the vehicle may be cited two different ways.

First, it could be issued a $50 citation for violating a local restricted road. Second it could be cited for disobeying a traffic control sign. This option will likely cost $120 before any court costs. This is a moving violation which must be reported to the Illinois Secretary of State.

Now place a weight restriction sign over an elevated structure which has been assigned a specific gross weight by the Illinois Department of Transportation. If a truck violates this sign, the driver faces fines likely in the thousands of dollars. The only distinguishable difference between the two signs is their location, yet the consequences are vastly different.

So how can a driver know which sign is which? The easiest way is to be aware of surroundings and look at where the sign is posted. Many jurisdictions have taken extra steps to ensure commercial vehicle traffic is made aware of weight restrictions well before they would have the opportunity to travel on them.

For readers more technologically advanced, weight restricted elevated structures are listed on the Illinois Department of Transportation’s website. When planning a trip, this is the best resource to make an informed routing decision.

Some may think these signs only impact drivers of larger commercial vehicles. This is not the case as smaller commercial, or even personal vehicles, can be impacted by weight restricted roads. An example would be a smaller delivery or refuse collection truck traveling on a local road. If there is a posted sign with a weight limitation and the vehicle weighs more than the sign, the vehicle is in violation. Local deliveries and pick-ups are not exempt from the limitations unless otherwise specified.

Local units of government need to be cognizant of what is posted on signs and written in ordinances. It would be unreasonable to prohibit local deliveries or garbage pick-up on residential streets without there being a major safety concern behind the reasoning for weight limit signs.

Further, jurisdictions need to make sure signs clearly state what vehicles they intend to prohibit or restrict. Simply putting “10 Ton Weight Limit” could mean many different things. Does this weight limit apply to the manufacturers Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), the actual gross weight on the scale or the registered weight?  These are all questions which should be asked and answered before signs are posted and enforcement is taken.

As is the theme in so many of the ITEA’s blog articles, the concept is to work together to make things right. Each entity has an important role to play in commercial vehicle safety. Local government needs to do their best to post clear, concise traffic control signs to assist in the prevention of violations.

Commercial vehicle operators need to exercise good judgment and be aware of their surroundings when traveling on unfamiliar routes. Finally, both need to live by the motto, “if you see something, say something.” Don’t be afraid to make suggestions or offer input to local government. After all, there is only one way to fix a problem: to make the problem known in the first place.

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