Exempt Vehicle Plates

Red. It is the universal color representing the command to “stop”. Octagonal stop signs are red. Traffic control devices are red. Brake lights are red. While red means stop, it is also the color which represents rage and anger. When things get red-hot, look out! It is also the color of warning. Think of the shiver up your spine when the metaphorical red flags are raised. The article this week discusses the reddest of red license plates in Illinois – the Exempt Vehicle (EV) plate. Does this plate represent anger? Does this plate mean “stop”? The answer to both questions is yes, but the better questions are why does the plate provoke anger and who is the plate trying to stop?

The “who” question will go first, which explain the “why”. The answer to “who is the red EV plate trying to stop” question? The police officer, that’s who. What the what?

Vehicles in Illinois, whether they be cars trucks, trailers, or buses, are required to be registered with the Secretary of State (SOS). When it comes to truck and trailers, also known as second division vehicles, registration serves as more than an external, steel plate of identification.

Registration for these vehicles also serves as tax to carry weight on the highways of this great state. The heavier the vehicle, the more tax the owner must pay. When the police stop and weigh a vehicle which has not paid enough tax, they are issued an overweight ticket with fairly significant fines attached. The stakes are high.

As is the re-occurring theme of this blog for the last six years, nothing is easy with truck law. It is complicated. It is confusing. The benefit of the doubt will be extended to the police officer because although he may take the incorrect enforcement action, it is reasonable to understand why he makes a mistake.

While all vehicles are required to be registered, there are exceptions to the rule. It goes without saying that if a vehicle is exempt from registration, it needs not display a steel license plate. If this is the case, why then is there an EV license plate at all? Does that not completely defeat the purpose of being an exempt vehicle?

Yes. The logic is spot on. However, because the law surrounding exempt vehicles is confusing and open to interpretation through the regulatory authority of the SOS, police officers sometimes err (they are human too). They sometimes mistake an exempt vehicle not displaying registration as second division vehicle which requires registration. Therefore, they feel there is an overweight enforcement action which can be taken.

The sole purpose of the red EV plate is to alert the police officer the vehicle has been declared by the SOS to be an exempt vehicle which does not require any registration. There is not an overweight on registration citation to be issued.

Unless, of course, the EV plate is being used improperly, or was applied for with fraudulent information. In those instances, the vehicle might have been required to pay a tax for the weight, but not necessarily. Truck officers need to use great discretion and check with the SOS prior to assuming they have navigated the law correctly.

Needless to say, vehicle owners have been left seeing red when the police officer has misinterpreted the validity of the EV plate. The owner who has done their homework, lawfully applied for and received EV plates, has some legitimate consternation. This does not excuse deconstructive behavior on their part to humiliate or prove the officer wrong at roadside.

Mistakes, as unfortunate and inconvenient as they are, can usually be corrected. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association has stepped in and settled this issue many times, and will continue to provide education to both professions to minimize the confusion.

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