Incompetent Evidence

Want to easily annoy a uniformed police officer? When you see him walking into a store (presumably minding his own business), say “I didn’t do it!” Maybe you could point at your friend and say “He did it!” Worst yet, grab your child by the shoulder and say “Act right or that policeman will take you to jail.” The officer understands what you are doing, but it’s not original and it’s highly irritating. Unfortunately, truck officers hear similar things in court about certain overweight tickets. The article this week focuses on one such excuse heard a whole lot this time of year.

What do December 31st, March 31st and June 30th all have in common? These are the days of the year one set of truck or trailer registration plates expire. At the stroke of midnight the following day, if you as the vehicle owner have not paid your annual registration tax to the Secretary of State, you have a big problem. Your truck or trailer is overweight on registration.

A key concept to understand is that cars are not trucks. A car is a first division vehicle per the Illinois Vehicle Code. It is required to be registered when operated on the highways of this state, but the registration does not have to be weighted. This is why when you forget to renew your registration for your car, the police officer does not drag you off to a scale.

Trucks and trailers are second division vehicles, which by law have to be registered with a maximum weight. On January 1st, Illinois tow-trucks who have not re-upped are overweight on registration. On April 1st, Illinois apportioned plates. July 1st, Illinois flat weight truck and trailer plates.

When a police officer stops a second division vehicle with expired registration, or no registration at all, he may order the driver to follow him to the nearest available scale for weighing. And yes, the officer must actually weigh the vehicle on the scale. There is no wiggle room.

Upon weighing the vehicle, the officer may assess the maximum fine based on the gross weight and the registration plate needed to cover the weight. For instance, if the truck weighs 34,780 pounds, the maximum fine is the cost of a 36,000 pound “L” truck plate, plus court fees.

This is a criminal matter, and it stings the pocketbook for sure. Not only does the driver or owner have to pay the fine, but he still needs to purchase the registration. In essence, he could be paying for the registration twice. The ticket and the fine money do not re-register the vehicle.

So what does this have to do with court and excuses the officers have heard a million times over? Overweight on registration fines for expired plates can exceed $3000. It’s a lot of money, and it is understandable that registered owners who sent their money in are angry when the officer tells them the plates are still expired.

This being mid-August, many overweight on registration citations issued in July for expired Illinois flat-weight plates are coming due in court. Defendants bring in proof that they paid the SOS or a currency exchange for the new plates. They bring in a renewal card instead of the actual renewed registration.

These documents may help mitigate the fine, but they are not defensive evidence. In 625 ILCS 5/3-401(d)(4), the statute is clear:
“Proof of proper Illinois registration issued by the Secretary of State, or the appropriate registration authority from the foreign state, shall be the only competent evidence of payment.”

ITEA truck officers understand registration is expensive, especially for a fleet of trucks, and this is a competitive market. Every dollar counts and sometimes it is tough to get all the cash together by the last day of the registration year.

However, the responsibility still falls on the carrier. Just because some applies for a mortgage doesn’t mean they can move into the house. Just because applied and paid for a concealed carry permit does not mean he can carry concealed. 

A person can move into their new house at turnkey. A citizen can pack heat when the Illinois State Police issue the carry permit. A truck owner can lawfully put his truck back on the road once the SOS has issued the valid registration.

It’s a relatively black and white issue. The ITEA greatly encourages our truck officers to do right by the truckers in these incidents. This does not mean dismiss the ticket because of late compliance, but for sure reduce the charges and give the owner some money back.

That’s the competent and reasonable thing to do.

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Illinois Rail Safety Week 2014

There’s a reason every red-blooded American boy wants to be a train conductor or a truck driver: big powerful machines made of iron and steel are cool. Many kids grow out of this stage, the rest either become truck cops, train conductors or truck drivers. It’s no secret the trucking and rail industry do not always see eye-to-eye, but there are times when both industries need to come together for the greater good. One such instance is Illinois Rail Safety Week 2014. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is proudly co-sponsoring this event because trucks play a vital role in rail safety. The article this week will explain why.

September 14th-20th, 2014 marks the inaugural year for Illinois Rail Safety Week. The driving force behind the event is the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police Traffic Safety Committee, on which several ITEA board members serve as well.

Rail safety may seem rather intuitive, but sadly the numbers prove different. Every year, lives are lost, including those of truckers, for failure to follow simple rules at rail crossings. 

Time is money. The boss wants it done yesterday. The phone is ringing. That train is moving slow. I got plenty of time. Bam. Tragedy…again.

State Law vs Federal Law
There are truck specific laws at both the state and federal level. Those truckers who operate with CDLs need to be concerned with both! While some laws are similar at both levels, others are specific to their own code. Some state law violations may not be in the federal law, but CDL status could be affected anyhow. 

Heavy Equipment
State law requires that any vehicle moving heavy equipment have proper clearance before crossing the railroad tracks. Because much heavy equipment is transported on lowboy trailers, a nine-inch minimum is required before crossing the rails. What is interesting is the definition of “heavy equipment”.

The statute gives several examples: crawler-type tractor, power shovel, derrick or roller. However, it also gives a catchall. If the equipment being operated or moved is designed to travel less than 10mph, the driver must stop the truck between 15 and 50 feet of the crossing to make sure it is clear. 

While most minds will immediately think this statute applies exclusively to oversize/overweight permit loads, it does not say that. What about legal weight skid steers, pavers or excavators? Many of these machines do not exceed 10mph and are moved over trucks.

Permit Loads
Speaking of permit loads, the Illinois Department of Transportation has something to say about this topic in the 2012 Permit Manual. If you are operating on a valid IDOT permit on an IDOT road, you assume all liability if a problem arises because you did not stop and inspect the rail crossing prior to crossing. The permit may very well route you over the tracks, but you are still responsible. A violation of permit citation could be issued.

Passenger Vehicles
Federal law requires all “buses” to stop and look prior to crossing. The Illinois state law is more restrictive. It not only requires all buses, but any second-division vehicle, carrying passengers for-hire, to stop. This includes vehicles designed to carry ten or more people like some stretch limousines, party buses and 15-passenger vans in ride-sharing agreements.

Hazardous Materials
in Part 392.10, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations delineate a host of hazardous materials which would require the driver to stop the vehicle at a rail crossing. The Illinois state law defers to this list as well. The key here is enforcement scope.

The truck actually has to being carrying the material, not just displaying placards. While a local police officer can just as easily look at a placard and compare it to the list, the proof of the violation rests with the presence of the material. Illinois State Police troopers can inspect a commercial vehicle without cause, but local Illinois officers are limited by procedural case law. Just crossing the tracks without stopping, while displaying placards, is not enough for a search.

Shifting Gears
Even with automatic transmissions rapidly gaining popularity in commercial vehicles, the standard transmission is still king. If a truck is of the type which is required to stop at railroad crossings, the driver may not shift gears once the approach to the tracks and has begun. He also cannot shift until the entire vehicle has cleared the tracks. This is for good reason. Even the best drivers sometimes miss gears when shifting. If the trucks stalls on the tracks, bad things could happen.

Illinois needs goods shipped by rail and highway transport, and we need it delivered in one piece by alert drivers. Illinois Rail Safety Week 
2014 is all about both industries and law enforcement working together for safety. 

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Getting Tarped

Tell the truth…you know you love it when a rock falls off a truck and cracks your windshield. You know what else you love? When sand blows of the pile inside a truck and you can feel it scratching against the clear coat. If you indeed love these things, you must either be nuts or drive a beater car you really don’t care about. There’s a common myth in Illinois truck enforcement circles that “all loads of aggregate must be tarped”. Guess what? Not true.

Pick and industry and there is always a hot topic. In trucking world, fatigued driving and highway funding are all the rage these days. Dial the clock back a couple years and load securement was the talk of the town.

Even if this article is narrowly focusing on tarps and aggregates, it’s in the family of load securement. Because load securement is the big picture, a foundational background needs to be laid.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations speak in volumes about load securement. Pick a commodity like steel coils, heavy machinery or roof trusses and there are specific rules about how that load is too be secured. After that, the securement devices themselves have a set of regulations. Chains, load straps and binders have ratings and integrity specifications.

It’s been said before and now it will be said again. Local truck enforcement officers in Illinois should have a working knowledge of the FMCSR and be able to spot a critical safety violation for a lawfully stopped truck.

This does not mean the officer has the right to stop a truck for an FMCSR violation. This does not mean the officer has the right to inspect the truck for other FMCSR violations. This does not mean the officer can write any sort of citation for the FMCSR or shoehorn it into the unsafe vehicle statue of the Illinois Vehicle Code. This does not mean the officer has the authority to play pretend “out of service”. These are exclusive enforcement tasks of the Illinois State Police.

Whereas the FMCSR has scores of detailed regulations regarding load securement, Illinois has three statutes. Yeah that’s right…three and they are not very commodity or device specific.

The first is 625 ILCS 5/15-106 that says any protruding members of the load must be secured.

The second is 625 ILCS 5/15-109 that says loads cannot be spilled on the highway or come loose and be a hazard to other motorists. There is also a subsection about steel coil securement, but it defers to the FMCSR, so no local enforcement.

The third, and case in point, is 625 ILCS 5/15-109.1. This statute talks about when tarps are required:

“(a) No person shall operate or cause to be operated, on a highway, any second division vehicle loaded with dirt, aggregate, garbage, refuse, or other similar material, when any portion of the load is falling, sifting, blowing, dropping or in any way escaping from the vehicle.”

Notice the law speaks about second division vehicles, which could be trucks or trailers. The law also speaks directly to aggregates. The term aggregate is defined in subsection (d):

“(d) For the purpose of this Section “aggregate” shall include all ores, minerals, sand, gravel, shale, coal, clay, limestone or any other ore or mineral which may be mined.”

The most important words are the verbs. Falling. Sifting. Blowing. Dropping. Escaping. In other words, the load has to be leaving the truck in order for there to be a violation. That’s it plain and simple. Any police officer sitting on the side of the road waiting for a load of untarped aggregate to pass by has not met his burden to write a citation.

If the officer gets behind the vehicle, and the stones are falling out of the tailgate, ticket. If the sand is blowing off the top of the pile, ticket. Otherwise, there is not a load securement violation. Of course officers may exercise discretion in issuing citations. Interestingly, much like overweight vehicles, the statute actually requires the load to be secure before moving on.

The worst rationalization is a load must be tarped in the event the truck rolls over. Check out the picture used for this post. Tarps don’t hold back 20 tons of aggregates.

Myth busted.

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Mileage Plates

Who doesn’t like a discount? Whether you are living paycheck to paycheck or are flush with cash, there’s something satisfying about finding the lower price for a product. It’s just part of the American dream. There’s an inherent gamble in deals though. Occasionally the seemingly same product is not all that it was cracked up to be. Illinois truck registration is no different. It’s expensive, but there is a discount version…until it creeps up and bites back you in the pocketbook.

Here’s a quick comparison to get your attention. If you purchase the flat weight tax 80,000 pound Z-plate, the cost is $3191. However, the same 80,000 plate in mileage tax form is $1415! That’s a 56% discount. These costs do not include other administrative fees like the Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, the Special Hauling Vehicle permit or title/transfer fees. 

THE FACTS
Mileage plates are available for both trucks and trailers. The premise is simple. While you receive a fee discount, you have a limited amount of miles the vehicle may operate each year on the registration, as opposed to unlimited miles on flat weight tax. The authority and classification options for mileage plates is found in 625 ILCS 5/3-818 of the Illinois Vehicle Code. 

Interestingly, there are a few aberrations compared to their flat-weight tax cousins:
•   Mileage truck plates have a 20,000 pound “MG”plate. There is no “G” flat weight truck plate.
•   The flat weight “H” truck plate has a maximum capacity of 26,000 pounds. The “MH” mileage plate is only 24,000 pounds.
•   Regular truck plate have a “Q” plate for 50,000 pounds, but there is no “MQ” mileage plate. 
•   A flat weight “TG” trailer plate is good for 20,000 pounds, and there is no flat weight “TF” trailer plate. There is a mileage “MF” trailer plate, and it is good for 20,000 pounds instead.
•   Flat weight trailers have a “TN” plate for 40,000 pounds, mileage trailers have a “MM” plate for 40,000 pounds.

Those who elect to pay the mileage tax instead of the flat weight tax must have working odometers for the vehicle, including both trucks and trailers. This requirement is found in 625 ILCS 5/3-701. Odometers for a trailer are found in the hub of an axle. Records for the mileage of each vehicle must be kept.

Also, anyone who opts for mileage tax must post a $500 bond in event they exceed the limited number of miles allowed for that particular plate. If the truck exceeds the mileage, the $500 bond is used to make up the cost.

THE PROS
Obviously a discounted rate is a pro. Mileage plates are great for seasonal jobs with trucks dedicated to seasonal operation only.  Snow plowing and tree removal operations are perfect examples of this. This concludes the pros of mileage plates.

THE CONS
Here is where you pay the piper. While the mileage tax has a purpose, so does honesty and enforcement. After years of abuse, the 
Illinois Secretary of State Police now sends investigators out to do surprise audits. If the records are inaccurate, prepare to pay. If the odometer is broken, disconnected or otherwise not spinning at the appropriate rate, prepare to pay. Cheating on mileage plates is like not having plates at all. You may very well be force registered to pay the full rate for the fiscal year.

While most enforcement authority rests solely with the Illinois Secretary of State Police, local police officers have a hand in this too. There is nothing local police officers can do about a truck exceeding its mileage, or checking record books. However, if a local police officer lawfully stops a vehicle with mileage plates and finds the odometer not operable, the truck has no registration. That means no registered weight, which means overweight on registration, which means expensive citations. 

This is not license for a police officer to stop a mileage plated truck for any traffic violation, just to have it run a course to check mileage. Or to inspect record books. That is fruit of the poisonous tree.

Local police authority is limited. If a police officer has independent reason to believe the vehicle is overweight (axles/gross/registration) he can most certainly measure the mileage from the point of the traffic stop to the weigh station to guarantee odometer accuracy.

All that glitters is definitely not gold.

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Recreational Vehicles

“It’s all about revenue.” “Money money money.” “You guys are only trying to pad the City coffers on the backs of the working man.” These are very common statements heard from the drivers, owners and managers in the trucking industry when police officers write overweight citations. Unfortunately, many times they are spot on. The article this week will discuss a practice in truck enforcement that serves to prove this point: recreational vehicles.

If have been following the Illinois Truce Enforcement Association for any length of time, you probably have quickly learned there is little tolerance for enforcement that strays or bends rules for the sake of revenue. Unlike a basic truck enforcement course offered by another training institution where the instructor opens with a shameful “welcome to revenue 101”, the ITEA is the exact opposite.

Any police department which facilitates a truck enforcement program fueled by moneylust is a disaster waiting to happen. Laws have a purpose, as do fines. The revenue generated by truck enforcement should only be the byproduct of quality police work, not the catalyst for it. 

When a police agency demands or expects officers to perform truck enforcement duties solely to create income, they are encouraging police officers to find creative interpretations of the law. There are dozens of examples of this, but this week recreational vehicles have the spotlight. 

The foundation is simple. Registration and commercial driver’s license are under the regulatory authority of the Illinois Secretary of State. The Illinois General Assembly, for right or wrong, creates statutes which the SOS must enforce. Where the statute is silent to procedure, the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) fills in the gap.

Truck registration in Illinois is expensive. There’s no doubt about it. Given the high price, there is incentive for truck owners to try and cheat the system to purchase registration of a lower price. This is the case with RV plates.

Many second division vehicles are RVs. In those times when the trucks are indeed RVs, they may be appropriately plated as such for a substantially lower fee. In the times when the truck is not an RV, they must secure the exponentially higher base plate fee.

The problem police officers run into is when they try to ascertain who is cheating and who is not. The police officer who focuses on the purpose of the truck quickly finds he may very well be stepping on the authoritative toes of the SOS. 

The purpose for the truck being used as RV, whether lawfully or unlawfully, is incredibly complex and quite subjective. To say there are perfect, clean cut rules to this topic is faulty thinking. 

The reason police officers will attempt to use creative interpretation of statutes in regards to determining RV purpose harkens back to first few paragraphs of this article. Follow these breadcrumbs: 
•   If the truck officer believes there is cheating going on, then he can say the truck is improperly registered as an RV. 
•   If the truck is improperly registered as an RV, then it needs flat weight truck plates. 
•   If the truck needs flat weight truck plates and it does not have them, then an overweight on registration citation may be issued. 

Cha-ching.

The most common rationalization an officer uses to make this determination is that the RV is being operated for business purposes. This is correct in simplistic terms…a business may not use RV plates to circumvent regular truck registration or exercise a CDL exemption.

The creative, moneylusting police officer will attempt to find easy rationalizations to make the RV operation a business purpose. However there is no easy way to do this. It takes an extreme amount of investigation into tax filings and other regulatory paperwork to make a proper determination. The work required far exceeds what a patrol officer can accomplish on a traffic stop.

What’s worse is the police officer who detains a driver far beyond customary traffic stop time limits, set by the United States Supreme Court, to play Elliot Ness. What’s even more disconcerting is the police officer who employs his own low-standard rules and issues the citation, leaving the driver to prove his innocence in court.

This is bad police work. The burden of proof is on the officer. If the officer cannot rightly meet his lawful burden, he must send the vehicle on its way and continue his investigation. There are other administrative ways to bring the registration or CDL cheat to justice. 

To counter this problematic enforcement, the ITEA recently ratified a Standard of Practice (SOP 38) to provide guidance to our member police officers. 

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CDL Arrest Policy

On the road to maturity as a police officer, one quickly learns to quit taking things personally. Some take longer than others, but the sooner a police officer learns to judge the actions of a violator and not the actor himself, the easier life becomes. The reality is sometimes mistakes are made, but sometimes the consequences exceed the reasonableness of the offense. This can readily be seen in commercial driver’s license violations. The ITEA has a solution though…read on!

Earlier this year, under federal mandate, the Illinois Secretary of State began canceling CDLs for those who had not complied with the medical merge process. No fault can be attributed to SOS. Illinois went above and beyond the call of duty.

In the end, Illinois had one of the earliest and highest compliance rates in the nation because of this effort. Even still, just under 20,000 Illinois CDL holders still had their CDL cancelled for not certifying. Many of these CDL holders probably were not using their CDL anymore, but many probably just did not get it done.

There’s another wrinkle to this issue. Of the 400,000+ CDL holders in Illinois, 46% are certified as non-excepted interstate (NI). This means they had to submit a valid medical card at the time of certification. As interstate certified drivers, they are required to provide the SOS a new, and valid, medical card every two years before the date it expires. If not, the CDL will be cancelled.

Just to add some more regulation to the process, as of May 21st, 2014 all driver physicals have to go through a specific set of doctors called “the registry”. No more “doc-in-the-box” offices writing out bogus medical cards for obviously unfit drivers. While the number of qualified doctors has surprisingly met expectations, it will still slow down the ability for CDL holders to get their physicals done in time.

Once the CDL is cancelled for any of these reasons, the driver has thirty days and then the CDL will cease to exist. The driver will have to start from scratch to obtain a new CDL. Permit tests, pre-trip inspections, skills course and road course…just like he never had a CDL in the first place.

The medical merge regulation is just one way to be in violation of CDL laws. How about these situations?
•   With the new CDL criterion, the driver who did not need a CDL June 30th based on GVWR may need one simply because he weighed one pound more on the scale July 1st.
•   The driver who did not know about a new regulation which says the aggregate total of 119 gallon tanks exceeding 1000 gallons needs a tanker endorsement.
•   The driver who received bad CDL advice from a police officer who was trained in an unauthoritative truck enforcement class, is now stopped by a well-trained police officer.

All that to say this: there’s a lot of new ways to have your CDL yanked for nothing but paperwork issues. There’s also a lot of ways to be in violation of a CDL. Yes, the medical merge process is important to weed out medically unfit drivers. Yes, the responsibility to be compliant with all rules and regulations falls on the CDL holder themselves.

However, many good drivers may lose or have their CDL cancelled solely because relatively minor issues, not necessarily because they are unqualified drivers. If the CDL is their livelihood, they will continue to drive regardless. Others will continue to drive, ignorant to the complexities of CDL law. And yes, that is on them too.

The question is not whether or not the operator should be held accountable for the decision to drive without the CDL when required, the question is whether or not the penalties for all CDL violations fit the crime. As mentioned in previous blog posts, driving without the proper CDL when required is a Class-A misdemeanor. Outside the various state police agencies, the vast majority of local police departments require misdemeanor traffic arrests to be custodial.

Handcuffs. Towed trucks (exponentially more expensive than towed cars). Fingerprints. Mug shots. FBI and state ID numbers. Maximum one year in jail. Maximum fine $2500.

As an alternative, local police agencies could adopt a model policy brought forth by the ITEA last month which provides police officers discretion. A model policy which allows police officers to still do their job, but not make a custodial arrest of every CDL violator. A model policy which attempts to harmonize state and local methodologies. A model policy already adopted by many ITEA member police agencies.

Click HERE to download ITEA Resolution 2014-02. Police officers, start the conversation with your administration. Truckers, make the phone call to your local police agency and respectfully demand they adopt a policy which allows for non-custodial arrests of CDL violators.

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Harmonization

The majesty of music is hearing multiple layers of sound working together. Each person in a choir is an individual singing something unique. Their voice is not the exactly the same as the other vocalists, their line of music is not the same, but it all comes together to make something beautiful. Lest you think the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is getting soft, harmonization between units of government is a national issue for the specialized transportation, and this article will explain how the ITEA is supporting the effort.

Imagine this: you are a heavy hauler domiciled on the east coast. An energy company in California hires you to transport a massive generator from the Port of Baltimore in Maryland to Los Angeles. Months are spent planning. Route surveys, permit procurement, escort vehicles, utility relocation, police protection…the list goes on and on. It’s a massive process, and expensive too.

Just when you think you got it all figured out, one the states you are going to pass through (let’s just say Illinois) reports there is problem with the route crossing an overpass. You are informed the move will have to be diverted onto local roads involving one county and four municipalities.

Your transportation world just imploded. Other than the hassle of obtaining the local permits, each individual locale has their own specific rules and provisions about lighting, signs, escorts, and times of day. What may be customary and industry standard at the state level does not jive at the local level.

There is no harmony. All the voices are working against each other. The only tune being sung is utter discontent for bureaucracy.

Make no mistake, harmonization is not just about local government, it’s about state government as well. Rules for oversize/overweight (OSOW) moves vary between each state, each county, each township and each municipality. 

In Illinois, the Illinois Department of Transportation is the permit authority for all state highways, sans the tollways. Their rules and regulations have been most replicated by local government in Illinois, but this not a universal trait. Many locals have created their own set of rules which do not harmonize with IDOT. 

Several years ago, the American Association for State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) began studying this issue in depth. AASHTO represents the state departments of transportation for all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Washington DC. 

In 2012, the subcommittee on highway transport, and all 52 members, passed a resolution committing to harmonization based on five permit categories: escort requirements, warning flags, warning lights, warning signs and, days/hours of operation. This was called Phase I. In March 2014, the subcommittee released the results of their Phase II study.

Phase II explored all the different rules and regulations between the states, and identified the minimum requirements. For instance, let’s say 10 states required escort vehicles over 12,000 pounds GVWR, 38 states required escort vehicles over 10,000 pounds, and 4 states required escort vehicles over 8,000 pounds. The 10,000 pound escort vehicle would become the minimum standard, meaning four states would need to come into harmony by passing rules or legislations to do so.

This is no easy task though. Legislation and administrative rulemaking is an intensely political issue. Change has to begin somewhere, and AASHTO is taking the lead role creating model policy for the states to follow.

The problem is the final mile. Even if all 52 member AASHTO jurisdictions come into perfect harmony, there is no mandate for local government to do so. Even in a day where consolidation of local government is becoming a buzzword, Illinois is decades away from ever seeing real change. Until then, it will be a battle to harmonize over 3,000 units of local government with highway jurisdiction. 

Like AASHTO at the national level, the ITEA has agreed to champion this cause for local government in Illinois. Last month, the ITEA Board of Directors voted to pass Resolution 2014-01 encouraging local government to adopt the minimum Phase II standards for their local permits.

For our police members whose towns or counties offer OS/OW permits, step up and begin the conversation to meet these standards in your local town. For our industry members, pick up the phone and start respectfully demanding them to do so. 

It’s no secret Illinois is one of the most unfriendly states to good business. Permit harmonization is a small measure all those involved in Illinois transportation can take to start improving that reputation. On July 14-17, the SCOHT is meeting for their annual conference in Philadelphia. Let’s give them a shock that Illinois is doing something right.

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Exemplary Police Work #5

The war on drugs. One could not invoke a law enforcement initiative with so great a political divide. The truth is, the war on drugs is hardly a war. It’s maintenance. There will never be a victor. There will never be a white flag of surrender. The idealistic goal is eradication, but the practical goal is to maintain a high quality of life for the people law enforcement serves. In paled comparison, the goal of the Illinois Truck Enforcement Association has never been to completely eradicate mistakes by truck officers. The goal has always been to minimize them and have accountable police officers correct their errors. The article today tells the story of a police officer who exemplifies what the ITEA stands for.

Last week’s article discussed a radical new change in how law enforcement will determine when a commercial driver’s license is needed, and what class of CDL is required for certain vehicles. CDL law is a federal mandate which states must impose, manage and enforce.

Not all trucks require CDLs though…at least not yet. Rumor is beginning to swirl that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is looking into a potential expansion of CDLs to cover Class 5 and 6 trucks. Where federal regulation of CDLs end, the individual states pick up the regulation of non-CDL vehicles.

What makes things confusing is the definition of a commercial motor vehicle. At last count, the ITEA had about eight versions. However, any vehicle with a GVWR or actual weight of 10,001 or more, used in commerce, is a commercial motor vehicle under the authority of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Not all of these vehicles need a CDL though.

Illinois is one of a handful of states which require a Class-C non-CDL for certain trucks. Any motor vehicle with a manufacturer’s GVWR (not actual weight, never registration) of 16,001 pounds to 26,000 pounds is required to have a Class-C non-CDL. It is these vehicles that are the potential target of future CDL regulation.

There is no doubt CDL and classification determination is soup of confusion. Ask a dozen people and you will get a dozen answers. Unfortunately, police officers sometimes make mistakes when it comes to classification issues too.

The most common mistake police officers make in this arena is to combine the GVWR of a truck and trailer to arrive at a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) that lands between 16,001 and 26,000 pounds. The officer then erroneously requires the driver to have a Class-C CDL.

For instance, a truck has a 15,000 pound GVWR. If operated on its own, the driver only needs a Class-D license. Now take the same truck and add an 11,000 pound GVWR trailer. Even though the trailer exceeds 10,000 pounds, the driver does not need a CDL because the GCWR is not over 26,000 pounds. Because the driver does not need a CDL, the classification goes back to whatever is needed to operate the power unit only. In this case, a Class-D non-CDL.

The mere fact the GCWR lands in Class-C non-CDL territory does not mean the driver needs a Class-C non-CDL. As a matter of fact, the only time a GCWR can be used is to determine if a combination of vehicles requires a Class-A CDL. That’s it. Every other time the classification only needs to cover the power unit.

Earlier this month, an ITEA certified police officer stopped a trucking member of the ITEA operating combination of vehicles with a GCWR under 26,001 pounds. Because the total was more than 16,000 pounds, the officer wrongly cited him for a violation of classification for not possessing a Class-C non-CDL.

Everyone makes mistakes, even the most educated truck officers. What makes this officer stand out is that he is an ITEA certified police officer. He works under a code which states:
•   I understand I don’t know it all
•   I know where to find authoritative resources for help
•   I will make informed decisions before making wrong ones
•   I will be open for correction when I make mistakes

Our officer made a mistake, and when a representative from his ITEA Chapter reached out, he acknowledged the error. He accepted the correction professionally. He humbly agreed to dismiss the charge in court.

Nobody likes a self-righteous police officer. Simply wearing the uniform inherently oozes the perception of arrogance, even when the officer is meek. The ITEA is proud of this officer and his attitude. We count him among the best.

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Two Ways to Skin the CDL Cat

Do you want to have your mind numbed? Well, there’s a lot of ways to accomplish that unlawfully, but if you want a legit method, study the requirements of commercial driver’s licenses. For years, local Illinois law enforcement received some bad advice on which criterion should be used to determine who needs a CDL and when. In those days, unauthoritative instructors taught three ways, when in actuality there was only one. Until now…there’s two!

Here is what has absolutely nothing to do with driver’s license classification, whether it is a CDL or non-CDL: registration. License plates and driver’s licenses are like an old divorced couple. They don’t talk and want nothing to do with each other, and there is nothing anyone can do to reconcile it. 

Registration is nothing more than a tax to carry weight upon a road. If a vehicle owner wants to pay $3191 to the Illinois Secretary of State to carry 80,000 pounds of registered weight on his F-150 pickup truck, he is more than welcome. That does not mean he needs a CDL however.

Until just recently, the only thing that mattered – the only thing – was the manufacturers GVWR. That’s it. If International said a truck was rated to for a certain maximum loaded weight, that is the number used to determine whether the vehicle which class of CDL the driver needed. If Eager Beaver said a trailer was rated a certain maximum loaded weight, that number was all to be considered.

While registration was once falsely taught as a criterion for CDLs, a second faulty criterion was to use the actual weight of the vehicle on the scale. While it seems like a logical method for determining the necessity of a CDL, it was not. Over time, the FMCSA adopted guidance that actual weight of the vehicle could be used, but only in absence of a manufacturers GVWR.

Unfortunately many police officers were taught that you take the highest of the three (registration, actual weight or GVWR), and use the one which served your purpose. Oh how wrong.

For the last several years, the FMCSA has been trying to find a way to make CDL determination and classification a true comparison between actual weight and GVWR. Effectively April 18th, 2014, this became so under federal law, which meant in Illinois only the Illinois State Police could enforce the law as such. 

Effective July 1st however, Illinois statute adopts the federal statute, which means all Illinois police officers (who are trained appropriately) will enforce the law uniformly. In simpler terms, a police officer will be able to use the higher of either manufacturers GVWR, or actual weight, to determine if a CDL is needed and what class of CDL is required.

What this does not mean is that non-CDL vehicles are subject to the same comparison. Trucks which do not require CDLs are managed under administrative rule of the Illinois Secretary of State. The administrative rules require the GVWR to be used only, exceptactual can be used only with a trailer that is missing the GVWR.

For instance, a truck has GVWR of 15,000 pounds which would normally require only a Class-D non-CDL. If an officer stops the truck and it weighs 16,500 pounds on the scale, the driver still only needs a Class-D non-CDL. There can be no comparison as the vehicle has not crossed over into the CDL world of regulation.

However, if a truck has a 25,000 pound GVWR, it would normally only require a Class-C non-CDL. But if the officer puts the truck on the scale and it weighs 26,500 pounds, the driver just made the magical leap into the world of CDLs. The true comparison is at work. 

What’s important to understand is this new rule is about enforcement only. Those who go to test for a CDL will still be required to show up in a representative vehicle for the class license they desire based upon GVWR. That means if you want a Class-B CDL, you must test in a vehicle with a manufacturer’s GVWR of 26,001 pounds or more. You cannot show up to the CDL facility in a 25,000 pound GVWR truck that has been loaded to more than 26,000 pounds.

For our membership reading this, the ITEA Standard of Practice (SOP 11) and the CDL flowchart resource document are being revamped to reflect the changes and will be available soon.

This is important! To wrongly arrest a driver for a Class-A misdemeanor CDL offense cannot be excused by ignorance. To wrongly tell a driver he can drive a vehicle to which he is not properly licensed or classified is just as dicey.

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Nuke the HOS Rules

Once upon a time in the olden days, a builder finished a house and looked on it with pride. The house was square, level and plumb. All the mechanical systems were run for optimum efficiency. Fast forward 50 years and you walk into the basement and find octopuses of electrical, low voltage wiring, plumbing and HVAC…it’s a horrid mess of fix upon fix. There is no way to make it pretty again. Sometimes, it needs to be blown up, torn out and rebuilt from scratch. That’s what the nations’ hours-of-service laws are like for truckers. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.

On June 7th, a tragic crash occurred in New Jersey that has fanned the flames of an already raging fire regarding hours-of-service (HOS) and driver fatigue. The driver of a semi-tractor trailer combination crashed into the back of a limousine, killing one celebrity comedian and critically injuring another. The trucker has been accused of being fatigued, but the investigation has shown he was within the HOS laws. The question is, what was he doing prior to going on-duty? 

There’s an old adage that when a train hits a truck, the train wins. When a truck hits a car, the truck wins. Winning is the most uncompassionate word. When people die, everybody loses. That’s just the physics of larger and heavier objects crashing into smaller and lighter ones.

In a perfect world, this would never happen. Unfortunately, it’s an imperfect world and tragedy strikes. Crashes like these do not absolve government of doing the right thing by regulating the trucking industry. Conversely, it does not empower government to over-regulate with kneejerk reactions.

The value of life should never be compared based on the occupation of victims. The families of celebrities killed in truck crashes grieve just as hard as the families of highway workers, state troopers and “regular” people who lose loved ones in truck crashes. Death plays no favorites and will claim us all one day.

It’s unfortunate that when a celebrity is involved, the political nature of driver fatigue is somehow artificially amplified, as if driver fatigue was not an issue prior to it. The fact is driver fatigue has been on the radar screen of the industry and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for many years.

Props should go to the FMCSA for attempting to find solutions to reduce highway deaths due to driver fatigue. Recent rulings however proved only to create economic harm to the carrier industry and did little to reduce the number of highway deaths. To that end, the United States Senate this week will have hearings this coming week on the Collins amendment which would roll back some of these restrictions. 

This regulatory regression is heralded by all sects of the carrier industry, but it could now be in jeopardy because the New Jersey crash. The rollback would be another step climbed in the ascent of profitable trucking, but instead it’s become a political soapbox. 

A soapbox mostly for those politicians representing industries competing with highway travel. It’s become a marketing strategy for those like the law firm which recently took out a full-page ad in Maxim magazine demonizing truckers by referring to them as “serial killers”.  

The harsh reality is that no matter how much or how little regulation there is, tragic crashes will occur due to driver fatigue…in trucks and cars. There is always a way to cheat and find a way around the law. Ask any police officer. You can spend 30 years running radar in the same place and still get speeders. Compliance may improve, but violations will continue.

The forgotten goal is balance. A student of the industry (and this topic) understands the robust complexities of  trucking. Certain HOS regulations may be good for one part of the industry, but not others. There are divergent operational distinctions between truckload, LTL, fleet operations, owner-operators, specialized transportation and short-haul drivers. It’s not apples to apples. Apparently as the nation’s social policies slowly descend into egalitarianism, truck law is not exempt.

For years, the federal government has been trying to create a static, one-size fits all HOS rule for the industry. It’s a noble effort, but it’s a waste of time. Instead they have created a hodge-podge of difficult rules excepted by exception after exception. 

The nation is not safer for it, and the economy is not prosperous for it either.  It doesn’t work. The drivers are still falling asleep. The trucks are still crashing. People are still dying.

It’s high time to wipe clean the HOS slate and start from scratch. A dynamic industry needs dynamic rules with dynamic enforcement strategies. Different trucking disciplines deserve what works best for their operational trade. 

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