Pipe Dreams

This week’s articles is about pipes. No, not the kind you smoke in a velvet robe. No, not the kind which broadcasts sound from a giant organ in a cathedral. No, not the kind which busts out the tailored sleeves of a guy with large biceps. Come to think of it, this article isn’t really exclusive to pipes at all. What is it about you ask? Fair question – read on.

Conversation is easier when a generic name is used to describe a whole lot of things which are similar. It in a high paced, high stress society, economy of words is critical. To meet this verbal frugality, it’s not uncommon to lump together similar items with a universal name.

Hence, “the pipe exemption” was born. The pipe exemption is an exception to legal length in the Illinois Vehicle Code. However, it is not just about pipes. It’s about anything of a structural nature which cannot be disassembled into smaller loads.

Obviously the pipe exemption applies to long pipe, but the law commonly serves to cover customary loads of steel I-beams, telephone poles and machinery, such as a legal weight excavator with a long boom.

Picture this: a 30’ long flatbed straight truck with three axles. The maximum overall length for any single vehicle in Illinois, regardless of highway classification, is 42’. Because the truck is only 30’ long, it is legal. But what happens when the truck is now loaded with a 50’ steel I-beam? There is no way to cram 50’ of steel into 42’. The pipe exemption kicks in to cover the extra length.

The same could be true with a semi-tractor hauling a 60′ telephone pole over a local road. The current (and drastically outdated overall legal length) is 55′. The load plus the rest of the power unit could very well exceed 70′. Not very compliant with the law, but the pipe exemption is there to make things legal again.

Most loads, when oversize, need to purchase an oversize permit from the proper road authority to carry such lengths. Not so with the pipe exemption, however there are limitations.

In order to qualify, the load must not be more than 80’ long individually, and the overall length of the vehicle and load cannot exceed 100’. Sound simple? Well keep reading.

The pipe exemption is found in four different places in the length law of the IVC, 625 ILCS 5/15-107. It is mentioned in the paragraphs which cover non-designated roads, Class I, Class II and Class III highways.

Each time it is repeated, something is a little different. For non-designated, Class I and Class II highways, the text specifically limits operations during “daylight hours”. However there is no definition of “daylight hours” mentioned. It is commonly accepted that this means 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset.

In the paragraph about Class III highways, it only says “daytime”. This term is even more ambiguous, but it’s not unreasonable to ascribe the same time limits as “daylight hours”.

The term “legal holidays” is also thrown into each of the four paragraphs. Much like the daylight vs daytime discrepancy, non-designated, Class I and Class II highways actually define which holidays are “legal holidays”. The Class III highway paragraph only says “legal holidays”.

Big deal? Maybe not, unless you are the trucker getting a $500 overlength ticket on a Class II highway because the federal and state governments recognize President’s Day as a legal holiday, but the pipe exemption does not.

Or maybe you are the trucker who believed he could move under the authority of the pipe exemption, on a Class III highway 30 minutes before sunrise, just like bigger and heavier loads operating under the authority of a permit. Ooops…wrong again. Vague laws yield creative interpretation.

It’s been said before and it will be said again – Illinois length law is a disaster. It’s high time for a complete rewrite of the entire thing. Now is anyone willing to pony up some lobbying money?

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CDL Grandfathering

Change. Some people like it, some people hate it. Regardless, change is inevitable and a person must learn to cope with new things. Many times changes only apply to those new to a system and the old people get the status quo. It’s affectionately called “grandfathering”, and on July 8th, current CDL holders are being grandfathered into a new list of restrictions. The new applicants? Not so lucky.

First, a review. Commercial Driver’s Licenses are regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The FMCSA then authorizes each state to manage their CDL program according to their rules. States are mandated to follow the CDL rules set by the FMCSA, which provides uniformity across the 50 states.

A few years ago, a host of changes were implemented by the FMCSA and time was given to the states to comply. First up was texting and cellphone usage. Then came the medical merge process. This summer, new restrictions on CDL applicants kick in.

CDLs are granted to people who successfully pass a written test, a pre-trip inspection, a skills course and a road test. When it comes to the final three parts, the applicant must pass these test in a vehicle representative to the class of license desired.

In other words, a person cannot get a Class-A CDL if he shows up to test in a CDL worthy straight truck without a trailer. He cannot get a CDL with a passenger endorsement if he does not test in a passenger vehicle.

Similarly, there are representative restrictions. An applicant can earn a Class-A CDL in a vehicle without airbrakes, but he will receive an “L” restriction, limiting him to driving CDL vehicles without airbrakes. If a driver holds a Class-A CDL, he can earn a passenger endorsement in a representative Class-B CDL vehicle. However, he will receive an “M” restriction meaning he cannot operate Class-A passenger vehicles.

On July 8th, the FMCSA has mandated a new list of representative restrictions. These restrictions do not apply to current Illinois CDL holders. They are grandfathered. Only those showing up to test will receive these restrictions.

What are these new restrictions? Good question! Here are some of the most prevalent ones:

“E” Restriction – Automatic Transmissions
As technology progresses, manual transmissions in new trucks are slowly being replaced by automatic transmissions. Whether automatics are better or worse than manual transmissions is a matter of opinion, but they are here nonetheless.

What the “E” restriction means is when an applicant shows up to test with a vehicle representative of the CDL class desired, and it is an automatic transmission, he will be restricted from driving CDL vehicles with manual transmissions.

“O” Restriction – Truck Trailer Combinations
This is a configuration restriction. A CDL applicant can receive a Class-A CDL in both semi-tractor semi-trailer (5th wheel) combinations, or in truck trailer (ball hitch/pintle hook) combinations. Currently, as long as a CDL holder has a Class-A CDL, he can operate either type of configuration. However, most Class-A CDL holders who tested in a truck trailer combination usually have an “L” restriction for no airbrakes.

With this new restriction, an applicant can still receive a Class-A CDL when he tests in a Class-A representative truck trailer combination. The difference is an “O” restriction will be placed on the CDL so he cannot operate Class-A semi-tractor semi-trailer combinations.

“Z” Restriction – Air over Hydraulic
As mentioned before, if the CDL applicant tests in a vehicle without airbrakes, an “L” restriction is placed on the CDL. These vehicles typically have full hydraulic brakes on the truck, and electric brakes on a trailer.

Some trucks come equipped with “Air over Hydraulic” braking systems. Just because air pressure is part of the system does not make it a full airbrake system. Therefore, if the vehicle representative of class has Air over Hydraulic brakes, the “Z” restriction prohibits operation of vehicles with full airbrake systems.

So what does this mean for enforcement? All police officers in Illinois, local and state, have the authority to enforce CDL restrictions. A violation of a CDL restriction does not void out the CDL altogether. Violations are cited under 625 ILCS 5/6-113. These are petty offenses and eligible for Sign & Drive. They are not misdemeanors like driving without a CDL when required. However, this does not mean the driver may continue driving in violation.

If you have a CDL permit, there are still a few days left to get grandfathered in, but unfortunately there are no more appointments available.

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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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Illogical Conditions

Remember the Choose Your Own Adventure and Which Way books made popular in the 1970s and 80s? Every story had multiple possible endings and no ending was wrong. There are many rabbit trails to follow in the Illinois Vehicle Code, and a person cannot simply flip pages and always arrive at a satisfactory conclusion. Similarly, when police officers erroneously believe one violation of the law magically makes a truck overweight on registration, costly mistakes happen.

Truck and trailer registration is a complicated mess, plain and simple. There are many exceptions to the rules based on vehicle configurations, commodities and politics. It’s not uncommon to find truck officers in the trap of “conditional logic” errors. An “if X” equation does not always yield a “then Y” solution.

This article will look at the litany of overweight on registration errors accumulated by the ITEA over the years. Hopefully by writing these, others will not make the same mistakes.

Failure to Display Steel Registration Plate
Yes, there is a law requiring vehicles to have license plates mounted and visible, but no, it does not automatically make the vehicle overweight on registration. Using this same logic, if a driver forgot his plastic driver’s license at home, can he be arrested for the misdemeanor “No Valid Driver’s License”? No. There is a specific statute for not having the driver’s license on person, just as there is a specific statute for improper display of registration.

Failure to Display the Correct Registration Plate
Sometimes truck owners and fleet managers (all humans) make the mistake of mounting the wrong plate on the wrong truck. A violation of the law for sure, but it does not make the truck overweight on registration. The police office must first determine the truck in question (using the VIN) does not have correct registration.

Failure to Display the Correct Registration Sticker
Much like mounting the wrong plate on the wrong truck, sometimes people put the wrong sticker on the wrong plate. A ticket could be issued, but not an overweight on registration citation.

Exceeding the Weight Limits of Valid Registration
This may yield a legitimate overweight on registration violation, but simply exceeding the weight limits does not invalidate or void the registration all together. This cannot be extended to weights north of 80,000 pounds either. A truck which weighs 85,000 pounds gross on the scale may very well be overweight in Chapter 15 of the IVC, but is not overweight on registration by 5,000. This is because an 80,000 pound registration plate is as big as they come.

No SHV Permit Voids Valid Registration
Several configurations of trucks and trailers are eligible for protections of gross and axle weight laws (Chapter 15) if the owner elects to purchase a $125 “Special Hauling Vehicle” (or SHV), permit with the registration (Chapter 3). If a vehicle, which could opt for this protection yet chooses not to, is stopped, it does not mean the vehicle registration is void and only receives zero pounds of registered weight. It only means the vehicle does not receive the protections offered by the SHV status.

Suspended or Revoked Registration
The IVC has special sections for registration which has been suspended or revoked. However, if the owner has paid the required fiscal tax to the Secretary of State to carry weight, the vehicle is not overweight on registration.

Not Having an Oversize/Overweight Permit
A few weeks ago the ITEA published an article called “Milkshakes” discussing the limited correlations between Chapters 3 and 15 of the IVC. This is not one of them. If the truck does not have an OS/OW permit as needed, it is probably in violation of the laws in Chapter 15, but it has nothing to do with the registration.

Incorrect Registration on an Oversize/Overweight Permit
Similar to the above paragraph, these two have nothing to do with each other. A violation of permit citation for listing the wrong registration may be issued, but the registered weight cannot be touched.

Foreign Municipal Plates
Sometimes trucks with base plates from other states (aka “foreign”) are allowed to operate in Illinois, sometimes they are not. A 3-axle garbage truck owned by a waste company cannot carry weight in Illinois unless they apportion. The same 3-axle garbage truck owned by a municipality from across the state line has reciprocity may operate in Illinois on their municipal base plates.

No CDL, IFTA or Safety Tests
While it is conceivable how an unrelated registration issue could be misinterpreted to be an overweight on registration violation, these examples of bad logic are egregious. Just because a legitimate violation of the law (specific only to trucks) does not render the registration invalid. That is the same logic as “the car was speeding, therefore I can arrest the driver for no driver’s license and no registration”.

Here’s some conditional illogic: If for decades the focus of truck enforcement has been heavily dominated by weight enforcement, then violations of other traffic laws somehow equal overweight on registration.

Sad, but true.

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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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Doubles Troubles

There’s old expression called “getting the cart ahead of the horse”. In the modern world, the horse represents the truck, and the cart is the trailer. It’s always a bad situation when a non-motor vehicle leads the power unit. Legislation can be like that too. In Washington DC, legislators are crafting a new truck length bill which exceeds industry standards, while back home in Illinois legislators are just trying to get truck length law out of the 1950s!

At the federal level, a small group of the biggest national carriers are pushing for controversial new federal legislation which would allow the maximum trailer length for double trailers to be extended from the industry standard 28’6” to 33’. The Illinois Truck Enforcement Association is not supporting or opposing the idea, but instead critically thinking through how this affects Illinois.

Truck-tractors towing double semi-trailers is a national standard. Semi-tractors towing triple semi-trailers is not. Triples are not allowed in Illinois. Many times police officers ask “why then does Illinois have a “T” endorsement for CDLs?” The reason is because CDLs are federally mandated and an Illinois driver may legally operate triples outside of Illinois.

When double semi-trailers (or double bottoms) are being towed in Illinois, the maximum length for each trailer is 28’6”. As previously mentioned, this is the industry standard for this configuration. Several states allow “western doubles”, “turnpike doubles” or “rocky mountain doubles” which allow double semi-trailers with individual lengths as long as 53’.

The key thing to understand about nearly sixty years of federal truck legislation is that the law only applies to federal highways known as the National Network (NN). This highways may be owned and maintained by the individual states, but dedicated funding from the Federal Highway Administration means they have jurisdiction over size and weights.

Study this timeline for the common theme:

  • In 1956, Illinois instituted the “State Bridge Formula” for weight. In 1974, the federal government implemented the “Federal Bridge Formula” for weight on the NN, to which Illinois did not comply until 1986! It took until 2010 for Illinois (the last state in the Union) to allow the same weights on local roads.
  • In 1976, the federal government authorized 102” for width on the NN. Illinois did not mandate the 102” width on local roads until 2010.
  • By 1982, the federal government forced each state to lock in the maximum length of semi-trailers using the Surface Transportation Assistance Act. Illinois chose 53’, but still has not allowed the overall length of truck-tractor semi-trailers to exceed 55’ on local roads (only 2′ long tractors may lawfully tow these trailers on local roads).

Is this repeating cycle of “industry standard yields change in federal regulation but not state regulation” not plainly obvious?

The difference with double semi-trailers is that 33’ footers are not the industry standard. The sect of industry leading this push is attempting to redefine the loose meaning of “industry standard” as it applies to doubles. That is the cart being put ahead of the horse.

While Illinois has managed to play catch-up in regards to width and weight, Illinois length laws are almost old enough to collect social security. The federal government may very well mandate 33’ semi-trailers for doubles on the NN, and Illinois may very well comply – for the NN. That does not mean Illinois will comply for local roads. It’s probably a safe bet, based on the legislative history of Illinois, it will take a minimum 20 years before uniformity would be mandated.

Under current Illinois law, if a combination of doubles travels on a local road (barring any reasonable access provisions), the maximum overall length is 60’ from bumper-to-bumper. Do the estimated math:

Tractor (bumper to kingpin) = 15”
Semi-trailer #1 = 28.5”
Space between trailers = 4’
Semi-trailer #2 = 28.5”
Total = 76’

The truth is industry standard doubles cannot be legal on local roads in Illinois under current law, yet there is a federal push to increase the limits. Progress is good, and legislation which helps industry be more profitable is good too. However, at what point should the focus be on retroactive modernization and not trailblazing?

The bigger priority for making Illinois less business repellent and more inviting would be to increase the overall truck-tractor semi-trailer length from the 1956 standard of 55’ to at least 65’. This would allow the very 53’ trailers declared by Illinois as “standard” in 1982 to be legally hauled with a day-cab.

That’s right, Illinois’ SB 1390 does just that. Yes, Illinois needs to be more proactive, but Washington DC could afford to slow down a little too.

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Milkshakes

When a young person studies mathematics, he will invariably learn about the law of mutual exclusivity. You cannot turn left and turn right at the same time. A coin cannot land heads and tails simultaneously. As the same person begins to study truck law (who wants to study math?), he must learn that most parts of truck law are mutually exclusive too. When he fails to understand this concept, bad things happen.

The Illinois Vehicle Code is like a bunch of buckets representing each Chapter. Fill each bucket with water and you have generic law. Now add a different species of fish to each bucket and you have the legal topic for that Chapter.

Students who attend the ITEA 40-hour Basic Truck Enforcement course quickly learn that there are many different buckets in truck law. Weight, size, registration, CDLs, fuel tax, safety tests – all similar under the umbrella of “trucks”, but sections of laws which are mutually exclusive of each other.

For instance, there are many definitions of the term “commercial motor vehicle”. How one defines a CMV is in direct correlation to the Chapter of law they are referring to. A CMV defined under CDL law may have some similarities to the definition of a CMV under fuel tax law, but they are not the same. A universal application a CMV definition may be desirable, but it is not the reality.

Vehicle registration (Chapter 3) and driver’s license classification (Chapter 6) are 100% mutually exclusive. Registration never determines driver’s license classification. Never. Registered weight (Chapter 3) and vehicle weights (Chapter 15) have some similarities, but are mutually exclusive as well.

Except when they’re not.

Forget the bucket illustration for a minute, and picture the two weight chapters of the IVC as two milkshakes. Let’s say the police officer enforcing the vehicle weight milkshake (Ch 15) has a straw. His straw may reach across the IVC into the registered weight (Ch 3) milkshake, but can he drink up the whole milkshake? No. Can he take a few sips? Yes.

So what are these few limited connections between the two? Here is the list:

Grace Weights
Generally speaking, trucks receive a 2,000 pound “grace” weight before an overweight citation may be issued. You can read more about that in the ITEA article called Mercy Weights. However, a vehicle registered for more than 77,000 pounds only receives 1,000 pounds of grace weight on gross (not axle or bridge formula).

Special Hauling Vehicles
There are many ITEA articles about the complexities of the SHVs. The simple thing to remember is this: if the vehicle is going to receive higher than legal vehicle weights (Ch 15), it must register (Ch 3) as an SHV. Two identically configured trucks and with the same load may receive different vehicle weights because one truck did not register the same as the other.

Tow Trucks
Picture two, 3-axle rotator wreckers, each weighing 52,000 pounds. One truck is registered with an Illinois R-plate for 54,999 pounds. The second truck is registered with Illinois tow truck (TW) plates for 54,999 pounds. The fees for both trucks are identical, $1942.

However, when the same trucks are towing an identical load on the wheel lift, the truck registered as a tow truck will receive 44,000 pounds on the drive tandem, whereas the truck registered with the R-plate will only receive 34,000 pounds.

Exempt Vehicles
The Secretary of State cannot register (Ch 3) vehicles which do not conform to vehicle weight law (Ch15). If a truck is manufactured so heavy it cannot be legal weight, it cannot be registered. It will however, require overweight permits.

The SOS will issue “Exempt Vehicle” (EV) registration for these vehicles though. The EV plates are red and cost $13. If the owner of the truck elects (not required) to buy EV plates, he must submit weights and axle spacings to the SOS for review. If the SOS determines the vehicle is non-conforming, it will issue the EV plates. This means the vehicle is not required to have registered weight. The plates are meant for identification.

Understanding the limited relationship between the two weight chapters is imperative for both the truck enforcement officer and the truck owner. There may be blood otherwise.

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Exemplary Police Work #8

Everyone loves to pay income tax and here’s why: In America, you can pay as much or as little tax as you want. Right? Wrong. No one likes to pay income tax, but you are free to select how much you pay. It’s just at some point the IRS is going to hold you accountable. Truck and trailer registration is a tax and the police are the ones holding vehicle owners accountable. Like the tax code, registration is complicated, and sometimes mistakes are made. Thankfully, the ITEA is full of great police officers who own their mistakes when they are made.

To understand registered weight, one must understand the division of vehicles. First division vehicles are those which are designed to carry 10 or less people. Second division vehicles are those which are designed to carry more than 10 people, or freight/cargo.

Only second division vehicles are required to purchase registered weight. This is the tax. Whether the vehicle displays flat weight tax plates, mileage tax plates or apportioned plates, it’s a tax. The more tax the owner pays, the more weight the vehicle can carry.

If a second division vehicle does not have any registration (or tax) paid, or the registration is expired, it is overweight on registration. The enforcement part of this law has always been clear: the police officer must weigh the vehicle on the scale and the fine is calculated based on the flat weight tax which covers the vehicle’s gross weight.

For instance, a truck with expired plates weighs 22,500 pounds. The fine is calculated using the cost of a 26,000 pound “H” truck plate, or $561.

Conversely, if the truck has valid registration, and on the scale the vehicle weighs more than the tax paid, the vehicle is overweight on registration as well.

The question here is how to calculate the fine. Prior to 2011, the law said if the vehicles gross weight exceeds the maximum registered weight, the overweight fine schedule found in Chapter 15 of the Illinois Vehicle Code.

By that statute, if a truck with a 12,000 pound “D” truck plate was found to weigh 22,000 pounds, the fine for 10,000 pounds overweight would be $3000! What? If the owner had simply bought the $561 “H” truck plate, it would be legal.

Due to this anomaly in the law, the ITEA co-authored a legislative bill with the Illinois State Police, IDOT, the Secretary of State and the Mid-west Truckers Association to make it a true comparison between the fine schedule for “overweight” or the cost of the appropriate registration tax. The police officer must use the fine which is lowest.

However, sometimes police officers misunderstand this law to mean that no matter what, whenever a second division vehicle is found to be overweight on valid registration, the cost of the appropriate registration must be used. This is incorrect.

Generally speaking, the cost of appropriate registration for smaller trucks is usually less than the overweight fine. With larger commercial vehicles, the overweight fine is usually less than the cost of appropriate registration.

At a recent 8-hour ITEA certification course, an ITEA member police officer realized he had improperly calculated the fine using this erroneous methodology. In this case, the officer had found a truck with a valid “R” truck plate (54,999 pounds) weighing 58,299 pounds. Not enough tax was paid.

As there an overweight violation? Absolutely, and the fine should have been $520. However the officer fined him according to the cost of the appropriate registration to cover the weight, which was $2093 for an “S” truck plate (59,500 pounds).

After the course, the officer contacted the ITEA to confirm he did indeed make a mistake. The defense had demanded a trial and the local prosecutor was preparing the case. There was going to be an unnecessary battle in the courtroom.

Instead of allowing this to happen, the new ITEA certified police officer put on a coat of humility. He contacted the prosecutor to let him know of his error. He even contacted the trucking company to do the same. In the end, the owner still paid a fine, but it was far less than the original amount.

The officer could have allowed both the prosecutor and the defendant be bamboozled by the law, and an unjust trial would  have taken place. Instead, this ITEA officer proved his integrity and worth and settled the matter honorably.

We are proud to call him one of our best.

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